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