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The 2021 Asia-Pacific Girls Report: Voice, Choice and Power

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Plan International
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Since the signing of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, countries around the world have committed to equitable and inclusive development for girls and young women.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, girls and young women are participating in youth activism for gender equality.

Such efforts have proven successful in changing long-held discriminatory attitudes and beliefs related to gender and ensuring that girls are better able to use their voice and develop leadership capacities.

The 2021 Asia-Pacific Girls Report details the ongoing work of female youth activism for gender equality, social inclusion and the current state of girls’ leadership in the Asia-Pacific region. It also outlines how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted youth-led activism efforts.

This year, our research focused on girls’ leadership, particularly the Political Voice and Representation domain outlined in the Asia and Pacific Girls' Leadership Indexes. It also concentrated on the past and present civic engagement efforts of girls and young women activists, enablers for future civic engagement and governments’ responses to female youth activism.

Our research found that girl and young women advocates are building their movements with a range of approaches, including working together with boys and men; education strategies; self-conscientisation and connecting with networks or coalitions of organisations.

Plan International collaborated with UTS-ISF to conduct research on girls’ activism and leadership throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

The research drew on both primary and secondary data to produce a qualitative assessment of youth activism in the region.

Section 1 presents an overview and the purposes of our research.

Section 2 presents the key findings collected during this research. It is broken up into two main parts: findings from the Asia and Pacific Girls’ Leadership Indexes (GLIs) and findings from our research on girls’ civic engagement and activism for gender equality.

Section 3 presents the conclusions drawn from the findings and how the Asia and Pacific GLIs can be used to support them.

Finally, Section 4 presents a call to action for national governments, civil society and regional bodies in Asia and the Pacific to invest in adolescent girls.

The Asia and Pacific GLIs are composite indexes that measure adolescent girls’ and young women’s opportunities to develop and demonstrate leadership capabilities.

The three highest-ranking countries on the Asia Index are Singapore (0.784), Thailand (0.733) and the Philippines (0.715), all of which are members of ASEAN.

The three lowest-ranking countries on the Asia Index are Pakistan (0.392), Afghanistan (0.405) and Brunei Darussalam (0.462), with the former two countries being members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

The three highest-ranking countries on the Pacific Index are Australia (0.854), New Zealand (0.820) and Kiribati (0.643). Australia and New Zealand’s Index values are considerably higher than the 3rd-ranked country and those below it, largely due to their high scores across all domains.

The three lowest-ranking countries on the Pacific Index are Papua New Guinea (0.436), Marshall Islands (0.482) and Solomon Islands (0.529).

In our analysis of emerging trends of civic engagement and activism, we found a mobilisation in both invited and claimed spaces including representation in government-invited spaces for policy consultation.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also invite girl and young women activists into friendly spaces to develop their leadership skills and voice. Girls and young women have actively claimed spaces (such as public demonstrations, campaigns and press releases) for voicing their messages. Online spaces are also being claimed for consciousness-raising and empowerment.

Key enablers for successful activism for gender equality included a positive rights-based approach and adults’ belief in the value of engaging with girl and young women advocates. Girls and young women need the support of their families and friends, as well as friendly girl- and young women-only spaces to build confidence and solidarity. Young activists were more effective working in partnerships and coalitions with like-minded organisations, and they hope to create a diverse intergenerational movement for gender equality and social inclusion.

We found that successful digital activism by girls and young women was enabled by their fast uptake of new digital technologies and their comfort with interacting on and creating content for social media networking sites. Activists created safer and more inclusive digital spaces to build their movements and activists interacting online, often also connected “in real life” (offline).

Girls are using their unique voice and experience to develop their leadership capacity and advocacy messages that support girls’ rights. By changing discriminatory attitudes and beliefs, girls will be better able to make their own choices and participate in decision-making processes, giving them more opportunities to practice leadership and find their own and collective power.

While girls’ civic engagement has made great strides in promoting gender equality, governments and civil society must do their part to support girls and young women in developing and using their voice, choice and power.