Our We Decide program in Peru educates women and girls about their sexual health and rights to help prevent teen pregnancy. Together, we will Beat the Clock.

View the story


1. Learn about her sexual and reproductive rights.

2. Share that information with other teens.

3. Advocate for adolescent-friendly health services.

Natsumi can talk openly about subjects that many adults – never mind her teenage friends – shy away from. Contraception methods, gender-based violence, reproductive rights and sexually transmitted diseases are topics this 16-year-old regularly discusses with ease.

Teenage pregnancy is another issue she often talks about and hears about, because in the jungle region of Peru where she lives, the teen-pregnancy rate is among the highest in the country.

“People see children suffering, but few people do something about it,” she says. “I’m happy to be one of those people who want to generate a change. And it’s not just me. A lot of young people want to make a change in our society. We can all help someone else.”

Item 1 of 5

Teenage troubles

Natsumi candidly admits that hearing about the problems teenagers in her community face shocks her. “I could have been one of them, but I had another kind of education,” she says.

That education came, in part, from her participation in a program where she learned about her sexual and reproductive health and rights. She also developed the skills to converse

candidly with her peers about contraception; safe, equal, caring and consensual relationships; and cultural expectations around masculinity. She also regularly advocates for teens with community leaders.

The oldest of seven children, Natsumi is very involved in helping her mother raise her younger siblings. As a result, she understands the responsibilities that come with motherhood.

“Over time, I’ve learned to value my mom’s efforts,” she explains. “I will never refuse to be my mom’s main support. Despite all the situations we’ve lived in, my mom always ensured we were loved and cared for. My mom is proud of me [and the work I am doing with teens and with my siblings], and I’m proud of my mom.”

Rights, respect, and representation

Natsumi envisions a different future, where she can study and be independent before even thinking about becoming a mother.

It’s important to her that other teens have this option too.

When I talk with other teens, I hope they will share that information with even more teenagers.

By encouraging young people to stand up for themselves, Natsumi sets an example for her friends, her siblings and the next generation of youth. She is their guide and their support system. She is their teacher and their peer. She is involved in discussions that she knows will shape how youth speak up and represent themselves in rooms where important decisions are made.


Natsumi became a peer-to-peer educator with her training in Plan International’s We Decide: Reducing Adolescent Pregnancy in Loreto, Peru, project, with support from our key funder, Global Affairs Canada. In a province where girls as young as 12 become pregnant, the We Decide project has applied a multi-pronged approach to reach more than 80,000 people in Loreto – 59,000 of whom are boys and girls.

To ensure that Plan International reaches more boys and girls like Natsumi, the We Decide team works with 49 communities and schools. By partnering with youth and community groups, the project hosts workshops, trains educators, publishes books, shares pamphlets, sponsors radio ads and records podcasts. We Decide is also active on social media, creating engaging content and music to reach even more young people.

Knowing that no project can survive without buy-in at the community level, Plan International also works with parents, teachers, community leaders and health professionals to provide training and to build support networks as the project progresses. With community involvement and peer-to-peer educators like Natsumi at the helm, its success is inevitable.


The Peruvian Ministry of Health reported a significant increase in births to girls under age 10, almost tripling from nine in 2019 to 24 during the pandemic. There were 1,149 births to girls under 14, highlighting the pressing issue of early pregnancies, according to Amnesty International’s Human Rights Report 2021/22.

This alarming rate of early pregnancy contributes to the pervasive problem of gender-based violence (GBV) in Peru. Between January 2009 and February 2022, the Femicide Registry of the Public Prosecutor’s Office identified 1,573 victims of femicide, more than half of whom were between the ages of 18 and 34. Shockingly, 190 victims were minors, representing 12.1% of the total number.

These distressing statistics underscore the urgent need for addressing GBV and protecting the sexual and reproduction health and rights (SRHR) of women and girls. Here are some baseline/midline highlights from the five-year Plan International We Decide project based on a July 2022 survey of 860 adolescents (50:50 women-to-men ratio):

  • At the start of the project, 44.1% of adolescent girls said they felt confident that they could refuse unwanted sex. At the midpoint, 67.4% felt confident in saying no.
  • At the midpoint, 40% of girls felt they had adequate access to SRHR resources and services, compared with 24.3% when the project started. And 69.6% said they had used a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse, compared with 60.3% at the beginning.
  • When first asked whether girls are equal to boys, 36.4% of girls said yes, versus 21.6% of boys. By the midpoint, 56.5% of girls said they felt that girls were equal, and 44% of boys agreed.
  • At the start of the project, 43.6% of girls and 54.2% of boys said it was never justifiable to hit a woman. At the midpoint, 72.1% of girls and 63.7% of boys felt this way.

Women and girls in El Salvador are fighting for change and learning how to better protect their environment from flooding through education. Together, we will Beat the Clock.

View the story


1. Identify an environmental culprit in her community.

2. Figure out how to stop it at the source.

3. Mobilise others to join the fight. 

Zuleyma, 18, lives in the coastal area of La Libertad in El Salvador with her father, stepmother and siblings. In a country where land elevation is typically less than 10 metres above sea level, Zuleyma’s community is especially susceptible to flooding, as it sits next to an estuary.

Watching the mouth of the river overflow with water, especially during the rainy season, used to fill Zuleyma with dread.

The biggest emergency we had was during quarantine. The water came out of the mouth of the estuary and flooded here. Then we had to go to the school, but we couldn’t leave unless someone came to evacuate us, because it was too full of water. 

Beyond geography, Zuleyma points out, there’s a second culprit in the flooding that has nothing to do with Mother Nature: “When the mouth of the estuary fills up completely with water, the water overflows into the community,” she explains. “It does this because so much trash and leaves clog things up, [giving the water] no other way out.” 

Preventing trouble at the source.

Together with several of her classmates, Zuleyma is leading a recycling initiative. Working with other community members, her tireless team has collected over three tonnes of plastic and cans from the river and sold them to recycling companies. In addition to helping prevent flooding, they also prevent trash from ending up in the sea.

Calling herself “a leader and a collaborator,” Zuleyma takes her role seriously. When she’s not collecting waste, Zuleyma is mobilizing her friends and neighbours to join her in protecting their community and environment. Her boundless energy and dedication have earned the attention and respect of her elders. As one community volunteer puts it: “Even though [Zuleyma] is very young … if she is called to something, she is very willing to say, ‘I support; I’m going.’” 


For several years, young people such as Zuleyma have actively participated in Increasing Resilience to Floods in Central America, a program facilitated by Plan International. Its goal is to provide community members with technical and community organisation tools. The program conducts outreach in schools, training young people in solid-waste management and implementing a collection system that runs solid waste through a recycling station.

Along with receiving instruction on identifying glass, caps, cans and other inorganic waste, participants receive training on gender equality, enabling girls like Zulemya to adopt leadership roles that will help keep their communities strong. “I consider myself a leader, ” says Zuleyma. “We girls have the same rights to say and collaborate in everything.”


  • Approximately 10% of El Salvador’s territory (about 2,000 square kilometres) is susceptible to flooding.
  • 80% of that territory is located in the coastal zone of the country, where land elevations are less than 10 metres above sea level.
  • in 2020, tropical storms Amanda and Cristóbal caused losses and damages worth over USD $28 million and affected more than 53,300 families nationwide.
  • Between 2018 and 2024, the Increasing Resilience to Floods in Central America program impacted more than 7,090 people across La Libertad, Chalatenago and Cuscatlán.

Learn how we’re preventing early and forced marriage by educating young women and girls about their rights and available health services in Bangladesh. Together, we will Beat the Clock.

View the story


1. Advocate to end early and forced marriage.

2. Educate girls about their rights.

3. Create a better future for her daughter.

In the community of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, 21-year-old Useaking, a mother of two, can pinpoint the event that changed her life forever: getting her period.

“I used to have to stay home for days when I had my period,” says Useaking, whose information on menstruation came from myths and taboos.

I didn’t even know to use rags, let alone sanitary pads, so I couldn’t go out as people would see my bloodstained clothes.

Staying home, in turn, affected her education. She fell behind in school.

As her studies slipped away, so did her options. Useaking was 15 when she dropped out of school, against her parents’ wishes, to marry a boy she’d met at Sangrai, a traditional water festival. She thought marriage would bring her the freedom she craved.

But with marriage came an early pregnancy

Alone in a new community, Useaking was expecting her first child by age 16. Her second arrived 14 months later. “At the time, I didn’t know I could use the health services in my area. No one told me about this or was there to guide me,” she recalls, describing a situation that is common in many parts of Bangladesh, where 22% of girls marry before the age of 15. 

Item 1 of 5

Useaking’s story took an unexpected turn when she discovered a community support group for young married women. Among her new friends, she learned about sexual and reproductive health, mental health and gender-based violence. The more she learned about her rights and the importance of family planning, the more confident – and vocal – she became.

Determined to share her knowledge with any girl who would listen, including her younger sister, Useaking began speaking out against early and forced marriage, using her life as an example.

[Girls who study and work] can live freely and go wherever they want, but I cannot. If I had known, I might have made different choices.

Given that daughters of teenage mothers run a greater risk of becoming young mothers themselves, Useaking has a vested interest in breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty that perpetuates early marriage: “I want my daughter to reach her full potential and enjoy her freedom, to have access to education and the opportunity to pursue her dreams.”


Useaking’s plan came together with the support of our LEAP (Lifting Healthy, Empowered and Protected Girls and Women in Cox’s Bazar) project, and our key funder, Global Affairs Canada. The goal is to work with adolescent girls and young women living in host communities and refugee camps and help them realize and advocate for their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). The central focus is helping prevent early and forced marriage and gender-based violence and improving access to information and health services. This three-year program, which was launched in 2022, will reach 97,773 adolescent girls and boys, ages 10 to 24.

Useaking is one of 2,100 participants in the young married women’s groups. Trained as a LEAP mentor, Useaking now meets with adolescent girls and boys to help them understand and advocate for their SRHR. The LEAP project also offers training for service providers, women’s organisations and government agencies on advocating for and delivering sexual and reproductive health services to adolescents and young women.


  • Bangladesh ranks among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest levels of child marriage.
  • Child marriage is illegal in Bangladesh, but there are still 38 million child brides, including women who were first married in childhood. Of them, 13 million girls were married before the age of 15.
  • Some families agree to marry underage daughters due to economic pressures or the belief that marriage will protect them from harassment and sexual assault. For others, it’s a way to control girls’ sexuality, mobility, access to information and opportunities to make their own life choices.
  • While dowry is illegal in Bangladesh, it is widely practised. Dowry increases as girls age and is another driver for early forced marriage.
  • Married girls are four times more likely not to finish school and are more likely to experience complications from pregnancy and childbirth and be exposed to gender-based violence. They also tend to have less influence on household decisions, including what health care they and their children can access.

  • Early and forced marriage begins to decline only among those with at least 10 years of schooling. The incidence falls below 50% among those with at least 12 years of schooling.
  • Early marriage (before 18) is a risk factor for intimate partner violence (IPV) against women. Worldwide, Bangladesh has the highest prevalence of IPV and very early marriage (under 15).
  • Early and forced marriage is becoming less common in Bangladesh. The prevalence of marriage by 18 has dropped, from over 90% around 1970 to just over 50% today.
  • If the rate of decline observed over the past 10 years were to double, the prevalence of child marriage in Bangladesh would drop to about 30% by 2030 and to less than 15% by 2050.
  • Meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target to end child marriage by 2030 ( and the national target to end child marriage by 2041) will require a significant push. Progress must be at least eight times faster than the rate observed over the past decade to meet the national target and 17 times faster to meet the SDG target.

Our Indonesia program helps women and girls fight climate change and improve the ecosystem through education, by developing agricultural knowledge and practical skills. Together, we will Beat the Clock.

View the story


1. Learn about the impacts of climate change.

2. Develop a practical skill set to adaptDevelop a practical skill set to adapt.

3. Spread knowledge and seek out new strategiesSpread knowledge and seek out new strategies.

On the island of Lembata, Indonesia, the impact of climate change can be felt in every breath. The hot weather and arid landscape are a recipe for the fine dust that can trigger respiratory problems in urban areas that receive as little as 10 to 331 millimetres of rain annually. The trees and plants that would help improve air quality and deliver shady relief are few and far between.

“One of the victims of climate change is ourselves,” says Eping. The 18-year-old islander has dedicated herself to fighting the problem from the ground up, through a series of small actions that add up in big ways.

After attending community training where she learned how to make water traps with plastic bottles, filter water and irrigate the land, Eping began planting greenery, vegetables and medicinal plants in her yard.

Recently, Eping planted 50 pineapple seedlings using organic fertilizer made from chicken manure. The chickens she raises (a long-time hobby!) live in the front of the house while the planting is done at the back. The entire space has become what she calls a “mini park” that she and her family can refresh together.

Now attending university in Yogyakarta, Eping continues to seek out innovations that conserve water, promote greenery and improve everyday life. She encourages classmates to fight climate change through actions as simple as sorting their trash or planting ornamental flowers on campus.

“Climate change is not a plague that can come and go,” Eping says. “This change is caused by humans who only want to live instantaneously.”

Planet Earth needs us for its recovery. We are not just affected by climate change; we can also overcome it.



Eping is one of 25 girls who participated in Girls Driving Climate Change Adaptation, a year-long project implemented by Plan International Indonesia in 2021 to help children and youth stay positive and productive during the pandemic. Through this educational program, young people learned about the impact of climate change as well as practical ways to mitigate its effects on Lembata’s fragile ecosystem – and the everyday lives of the families who live there.

“Simple actions – such as making water traps and infiltration holes, developing yards with plants and vegetables and practising the habit of bringing your own water and water bottles to school – all assisted girls in capacity building related to climate change,” says Erlina Dangu, the program’s implementation manager.


The climate in Lembata is tropical, with an average long dry season of eight to nine months and a relatively short rainy season of three to four months on average. This makes it vulnerable to drought disaster, which is currently happening.

The health and safety of 1,874 people, many of whom are children, have been affected by the drought.

In addition to capacity-building initiatives such as Girls Driving Climate Change Adaptation, Plan International Indonesia has distributed more than 1 million litres of clean water to affected residents in five residential locations.

Global youth activists are influencing decision makers to help make cities safer for women and girls, fight climate change and prevent gender-based violence. Together, we will Beat the Clock.

View the story


Plan International youth activists around the world are influencing decision makers to help make cities safer for girls and women and address climate change and gender-based violence.

Alice talking to a group of people

“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” reflects Alice, a former Plan International Australia youth activist. “There are so many incredible young leaders who have championed important causes, and I hope the next generation feels empowered to follow in their footsteps.”

In 2018, when Alice was 21 years old, she worked on the Free to Be campaign, which advocated for safe cities where girls and women wouldn’t be harassed and would be considered and consulted in their city’s design.

In partnership with CrowdSpot and Monash University’s XYX lab, Free to Be created a digital platform where girls and young women could share their lived experiences from five cities around the globe: Sydney, Delhi, Kampala, Lima and Madrid. On an interactive map, they could drop pins – happy or sad faces – on places they loved, ones they avoided or where they felt safe. It emboldened girls and young women to speak out about unsafe experiences and identify spaces that needed to be improved.

The launch of a global movement

“The campaign saw tens of thousands of young women worldwide share their experiences with street harassment”, explains Alice. “Importantly, it also allowed us to build a bank of data to share with decision makers on where we feel unsafe in our cities. Free to Be’s impact internationally and on the people around me was extraordinary. It provided momentum to an existing women’s safety movement and allowed us to show the scale of the issue. It started conversations in the media, with the public and in decision-making circles. Often, I was invited into those circles to discuss the problem and offer solutions.”

Using this research and data, and after reflection and consultation with girls and young women in the five cities, Plan International produced the Unsafe in the City report, which was released in time for International Day of the Girl in 2018. Youth activists, including Alice, used the power of this report and its findings to advocate for change in the way urban spaces are designed and to make cities safer.

The youth activists held discussions with the Greater Sydney Commission and the New South Wales (NSW) state transport authorities, to name a few, and conducted Girls Safety Walks, taking stakeholders on immersive walks around Sydney. These walks gave decision makers, planners and local authorities a glimpse into the experiences of girls and young women in their city and were based on “hot spots” uncovered through the Free to Be data.

The results of this, along with continued and ongoing advocacy, have been remarkable.

“Free to Be directly and indirectly contributed to some amazing outcomes for women’s safety in Sydney. We are still seeing the impacts of Free to Be more than five years later.”

Winning moves for gender equality

The biggest wins are within the NSW state government. The Greater Cities Commission created the Greater Sydney Women’s Safety Charter, which now has more than 100 signatories. The state government has also provided $30 million to the Safer Cities program to help improve the perception of safety in cities and towns, particularly for women, girls and gender-diverse people.

Today, Alice continues to work toward meaningful change for girls and women. She says the most significant learning from her time as a Plan International youth activist was that many decision makers genuinely support young people and can make all the difference in helping bring about change.

“I met and worked with some incredible senior bureaucrats and politicians. They were the most supportive people I met during the Free to Be campaign,” she recalls. “They helped give me and other youth activists a platform, encouraged us to speak, listened to us and provided tangible opportunities to turn our ideas into outcomes.”

Alice was so inspired that she decided to pursue a career in public service, where she continues to work with some of the bureaucrats she met when she was a youth activist: “They taught me to always assume the best in people and work toward a common goal.”

Street Smart

Plan International Australia worked with journalist Jan Fran to create Sexism in the City, an eight-episode podcast that explores ways to improve life for girls and women. Fran took to the streets to tackle questions about sexism in our cities, like: How is there still a pay gap? Can a street be sexist? Has gender equality changed since the 1960s? Each episode includes inspiring guests, real-life stories and practical tips to call for justice on the streets, at work and in bars, buses and banks. If you have ever experienced sexual harassment, have witnessed it or just want to hear some great advice, this podcast is for you.

Sexism and the City title

Plan International Youth Advocacy Champions


Question: Do young people realise they have the power to bring about change?

“No, and we have to change that narrative – the ‘Oh, you’re too young; you’ll learn when you get older,’” says Jennifer, a Plan International Canada Champions of Change activist. “It all comes down to a human voice, and you have one. You have a voice; you can use it.”

What did Jennifer do with her voice?

She co-founded Black in Saskatchewan, a youth-led organization that supports Saskatchewan’s Black community.

Youth programs in Canada

Champions of Change, Girls Belong Here, Storytellers Symposium, Youth Council, Speakers Bureau, The Power Within

Youths involved: 12,547 in 2022

Policy/advocacy achievements

Plan International Canada led a successful two-year campaign that rallied thousands of supporters nationwide and the Canadian government to create a dedicated day for girls at the United Nations. International Day of the Girl is now celebrated globally. (Plan International Canada’s board chair, Rona Ambrose, was Canada’s Minister for the Status of Women at the time, and she sponsored the resolution.)

In 2022, Plan International Canada also presented a policy briefing at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), calling for action to address loss and damage caused by climate change.

“I love how our programs help youth be the best versions of themselves,” says Zein Hindawi, Manager of Youth Engagement at Plan International Canada.


Question: Do young people realise they have the power to bring about change?

“While young people seem to realize that other young people can bring about change, few seem to realize that [they] themselves can do this,” says Ciara, a Youth Advisory Panel member with Plan International Ireland. “If your peers can do it, so can you. That is empowerment.”

What did Ciara do with her voice?

Ciara recently represented Plan International at the United Nations. She participated in a youth delegation that informed the UN about problems that young people face within Irish society. The UN then posed these as questions to the state, hoping to rectify them. Ciara tackled issues regarding gender-based violence experienced by children in her country. Both extensive research by Plan International and her own experience gave credibility to her voice.

Ciara remembers that the committee commented during the presentation that Ireland had uniquely included transgender rights, which helped shift the UN’s focus from the problems it thought Ireland’s youth face to the problems they actually do face.

Youth programs in Ireland

Youth Advisory Panel, partnership with the award-winning Shona Project and its annual SHINE festival.

Youths involved: 44,035 in 2022

Policy/advocacy achievements

Plan International Ireland’s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) participated in a youth submission to Ireland’s review of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. YAP member Amara led on drafting the written statement on the prevalence of school-related gender-based violence in Ireland following several consultation meetings with the YAP.

In September 2022, Amara and Ciara travelled to Geneva to attend the stakeholder meetings and address the UN Committee. Amara and Ciara received commendations from the UN Committee and were able to elevate their gender-equality advocacy to an influential, global level.

“It’s inspiring to work closely with youth activists and witness how they are changing the world,” says Francisca Chambel, Youth and Digital Engagement Support Office at Plan International Ireland

Our PASEWAY program is providing vital business training to women and girls in Ghana, helping them develop skills and create job opportunities. Together, we will Beat the Clock.

View the story


1. Learn a trade.

2. Start a business.

3. Pay it forward.

In Tamale, the capital of Northern Ghana, passersby often stop to marvel at a crew of 10 tile layers laughing and trading quips at a local construction site. It’s not something they see every day. Why? Because six of the crew members are women.

This scene is made possible by Ayisha.

Ayisha, 27, was in an arranged marriage and struggling to make ends meet when she heard a radio announcement about a job-training program. After interviewing at the program office the next morning, she decided to register on the spot to learn tile laying – a trade she knew nothing about.

“First, I thought it was for males,” she recalls. “Lifting tiles from here and there seemed like a huge thing. I was a bit afraid to learn it. But if you don’t try, how will you know?”

Her husband, mother and father-in-law didn’t understand why she would want to do “a boy’s job.” Friends attempted to dissuade her, saying it would destroy her beauty and spoil her skin. But Ayisha persevered and learned quickly. “[Tile laying] is not anything harsh. I could do it,” she says. “Now I am a master, and I am proud of my work.”

Creating job opportunities for young women

Today, the same people who made cracks about how they would never date a woman who works in construction approach Ayisha for contract work as labourers and masons. Even the dynamics of her marriage have shifted: Her husband is proud and respectful, marvelling at all of the people she finds work for – himself included.

Beyond providing casual employment, Ayisha has taught six young women (and three young men) how to lay tiles through her registered company, Dinveilla Construction Works. For Ayisha, who had never seen a woman tile layer before she became one, the most rewarding part of her career journey has been training other girls.

“I don’t want this moment to be only in Ghana but to move farther,” she says.

I want people to know that women, we can do something.


In Ghana, a society in which age commands respect, youth often struggle to access quality education and training that aligns with job opportunities.

Ayisha’s plan came together with the support of Pathways for Sustainable Employment for Women and Youth (PASEWAY), a three-year project facilitated by Plan International Ghana and local partners that helped young people across Northern Ghana gain job training and business skills.

Through PASEWAY, more than 4,200 young people like Ayisha received technical and soft-skills training in the construction and hospitality sectors. Over 50% of those who secured internships in these fields went on to be offered full-time employment. Ayisha is one of 500 PASEWAY graduates who has formally registered her microbusiness, a move that gives it more credibility as well as better access to government and private contracts.


With about 200 million people ages 15 to 24, Africa has the youngest population of any continent in the world. This number will double by 2050, creating what the African Development Bank calls a “ticking time bomb,” given that youth unemployment currently affects one in three young Africans.

Barriers include:

  • a mismatch between education/training and in-demand skills.
  • a lack of access to financing, markets and business-development skills that discourages entrepreneurship.
  • social and cultural norms that discriminate against young people – particularly women, rural youth, migrants and those with disabilities.

Approximately three quarters of unemployed adults in Ghana are considered “young.”

In Ghana, 46% of businesses are owned by women, but many lack the support necessary to grow.

Plan International has helped 6.7 million children and young adults around the world gain skills and access opportunities for youth employment and entrepreneurship.

Our Adolescent Girls in Crisis project in Uganda is helping refugee teens and young moms launch businesses that support their families and fund their future dreams. Together, we will Beat the Clock.

View the story


Photo of Ruth from Uganda

1. Grow her business.

2. Support her siblings to stay in school.

3. Mentor others.

Ruth didn’t want to drop out of school, but the 20-year-old refugee from South Sudan says she had no choice when she couldn’t afford the fees.

After I left school, I was at home, and life became very hard.

The settlement where she lives, in the Adjumani district in the north of Uganda, is now home to some 15,000 people (including those who live in the host community). Uganda is the largest refugee host country in Africa. While it has a relatively progressive approach to refugee management, tensions exist among host communities, long-term refugees and new arrivals due to competition over decreasing resources and the actual or perceived belief of unequal access to services.

Ruth is all business!

Ruth has eight siblings, three of whom are already married due to the family’s economic situation. She wanted to help her family, so she joined a business training program. Today, she is the proud owner of a successful small business, selling charcoal, dried fish, tomatoes, scissors, padlocks and dresses – a real corner store.

“I was able to borrow some money, and I started my business,” she explains. “When I started to make a profit, I repaid the money plus interest. I understand profit, loss and interest and other things that go into running a business.”

Her early success emboldened her to borrow more money to expand. “I thought to myself, ‘I am capable; I am strong,’” she says. Ruth has since repaid that loan, which makes her feel “happy and excited” that she can support her parents, buy food for the family and pay the school fees for her younger siblings. “I am now living happily. I’m shining and proud.”

Ruth credits her success to the mentors she met in the Youth Savings Group she joined. She hopes to also be a mentor one day. “I want others in my community to become empowered and move on with their lives,” she says.

“My next step is to continue growing my business. I may get my mom to run this one while I start another. I also want to help my younger siblings finish school, and maybe I’ll return to school to study social work and social administration, because I like counselling people.”


In the past year, the Adolescent Girls in Crisis (AGiC) project has supported 3,344 people, including 1,235 girls and 866 young women, across two refugee settlements in northern Uganda. Participants in 25 Youth Savings Groups study business skills such as record keeping, branding, market assessment and business planning. They also learn about their social and economic rights, which decreases their risks of gender-based violence and early and forced marriage.

The results? To date, 157 adolescent girls and young mothers are now engaged in their businesses, and 81% of them say that the training has helped them manage their finances.

The project also created four Adolescent Girls and Young Mothers (AGYM) safe spaces, where participants can access protection services. To date, 109 survivors of violence have accessed non-food items and have been referred for further support.

In addition, 41 health workers have been trained in adolescent-friendly services. This has helped 3,936 adolescents access sexual and reproductive health services.


Women in Uganda own one in three businesses, yet they tend to run smaller businesses in less profitable areas than men.

Uganda is one of only seven countries worldwide that has achieved gender parity in terms of the number of women who become entrepreneurs.

30% of Ugandan women entrepreneurs started their businesses out of necessity, versus 21% of men.

Among entrepreneurs, women are less likely than men to have employees, but women are more likely than men to hire women as employees.

Women and children comprise 81% of Uganda’s 1.54 million refugees.

Ugandan refugee settlements are governed by Refugee Welfare Committees (RWCs). Committee members are elected every two years by the refugee community under the supervision of the Office of the Prime Minister. Up to 30% of RWC members can be refugees, but women are seldom represented.

UN Women provided training to address that, and women went from 10% representation in 2017 to 48% in Yumbe and 54% in Adjumani in 2022.

Worldwide, 108.4 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2022. That is more than one in every 74 people on earth.

At the end of June 2023, there were 1,561,634 refugees in Uganda. This makes Uganda the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa.

Over half (56.5%) of these refugees are from South Sudan. In the six months starting from January 2023, 18,522 people entered Uganda from South Sudan.

13.5% (210,741) are living in the Adjumani district. The host population of the district is 238,800, meaning that 47% of the district’s current population are refugees.

Many refugees live in settlements that differ from refugee camps in that they are integrated into host communities.

The Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Young women and girls leading change in refugee settlements project in Uganda is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Our Keeping Adolescent Girls in School project in Tanzania is helping girls and young women stay in school by strengthening their ability to exercise their rights and providing communities with practical support. Together, we will Beat the Clock.

View the story


1. Get an education.

2. Forge a seemingly impossible career path.

3. Empower others to do the same.

Growing up in the Kisarawe District in the Coast Region of Tanzania, Magreth was a girl who seemed capable of anything.

In primary school, she was the enthusiastic and familiar face of educational videos and fundraising campaigns for the Kisarawe Children’s Rights Club. Off-camera, she developed a love of writing by corresponding with her Plan International sponsor in Sweden. By 11, she was contributing stories to Watoto Bomba, a book for children about coping with everyday challenges.

“We told stories about how to keep yourself safe in all situations: at school or when swimming. Even how not to get an electric shock when ironing – which I wrote from personal experience!” she recalls with a laugh.

In secondary school, during a Plan International #GirlsTakeover event in which she “took over” as a program unit manager, Magreth discovered the joy of leading:

At 13, I got to conduct meetings, sign documents and do fieldwork. It was fun – but it was serious!

Although Magreth had many talents, everyone was shocked and confused when, at age 14, she announced her intention to become a doctor.

Not just an ordinary girl

In a community where Magreth says many girls are married and pregnant before 16, no woman had ever pursued medicine. Was it even possible? Her family worried that she’d be wasting her time. Magreth responded by adding physics and biology to her course load.

I wanted to prove everybody wrong. I wanted to be not just an ordinary girl.

With Magreth’s admission to Muhimbili University came hard work, long hours and the stress of paying for tuition and textbooks. But she pushed through. In a country where many regions have as few as one doctor per 100,000 people, Magreth became increasingly focused on the reality that access to health care was a struggle for many. “Often, by the time people check into a hospital, they are in advanced stages of cancer or heart disease,” she explains. “I thought to myself, ‘If I want to be a good physician, I have to prevent these diseases from happening.’”

But how?

Stopping disease before it starts

In addition to running the university’s Students One Health Innovation Club, Magreth participated in an initiative to translate medical information from English to Swahili and publish it on a website so that non-English speakers could proactively access information about their health and well-being. The name of this project was Daktari Mkononi – “a doctor at hand.”

Last year, Magreth started working with the African Union COVID-19 Vaccination Bingwa Initiative (under the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) to mobilize youth to get vaccinated. “Young people feel invincible against COVID-19 but also fear the vaccine will sap their energy and make them infertile,” Magreth explains. “We have to understand their thinking so we can challenge it in a way that catches their attention.”

Magreth is now 27, and her mission to stop diseases before they start has brought her to the University of Dar es Salaam, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in public health. The talents she nurtured as a child continue to serve her well. Leveraging her platform as the Tanzania chapter leader for the Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network, Magreth writes articles, appears on radio shows and does public speaking and advocacy work on topics related to women’s rights, reproductive health, breastfeeding and taking care of babies through depression – the issues young women in her country face every day.

Paying it forward

Looking back, Magreth describes her journey as “very, very hard” but is encouraged by the progress she sees in her community. Some girls are going to secondary school and even university, which was unheard of a decade ago.

As a Plan International youth advocate in Tanzania, Magreth encourages this path every day – even on her day off. On Saturdays, when she returns home to socialize with family and friends and sing in the church choir, she also leads empowerment workshops for girls. For Magreth, it’s time well spent:

When you empower someone to fight for their rights and their dreams, they also have a chance to empower others.


In Tanzania, family and community resistance is just one of the barriers girls face when it comes to education. If there are financial challenges, girls are pulled from school. If a school doesn’t have a washroom for girls, they stay home when they’re menstruating. Early and forced marriage and pregnancy put an end to a girl’s education in over 99% of cases.

Working in conjunction with the government and community organizations, Plan International has launched the Keeping Adolescent Girls in School project in the Geita and Kigoma Regions of northern Tanzania. The project’s Year One goal was to move the needle on girls’ education by strengthening girls’ abilities to exercise their rights and make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. A critical aspect of the initiative is engaging parents and communities in the conversation and providing practical support toward helping families educate their girls.


In Tanzania:

  • Only one in four girls completes secondary school.
  • Almost one in three girls marries before she reaches the age of 18, and one in four has her first child before the age of 18.
  • Less than 1% of girls aged 15 to 19 are both in school and married.

In Year One, the Keeping Adolescent Girls in School project…

  • Trained 362 community leaders to mobilize support for adolescent girls’ education and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • Selected 118 community facilitators to teach girls about their right to education and how to advocate for gender equality.
  • Hosted 118 community discussions to raise awareness about the importance of girls’ education.
  • Distributed 236 education savings group kits to parents, to help families develop the financial ability to support girls’ education.

Now in Year Two, the project continues to keep adolescent girls in school through initiatives such as savings groups, which provide uniforms, school kits and more for girls in addition to providing support at a community level.

Our Sape’a 2.0 program in Paraguay helps young women overcome barriers and grow their own businesses to improve their quality of life. Together, we will Beat the Clock.

View the story