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Empowering women and girls

Empowering women and girls

The benefits of investing in girls and women are transformational. Given the opportunity girls living in poverty are uniquely capable of improving their lives and the lives of their families, communities and countries.


  • Girls aged 10-14 are 5 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than 20-24 year olds.


  • With extra schooling girls can increase their wages by 10-20%. They have better maternal health, fewer and healthier children and greater economic opportunities.


We must take effective action that enables girls and women to fulfil their potential. Their empowerment has a huge effect on economic growth and achieving all of the MDGs.

Girls Decide Videos

Halimah was 17 when she made this film. This is the story of what happened when she first had unprotected sex: how she was ostracised by her family and thrown out of school, and how she felt that her future had been taken away.

Things looked bleak for Halimah but that’s not quite the end of the story...


In Bangladesh, 14 year old Hosna is to be married off by her parents. She’s frightened. She doesn't want to drop out of school, nor to lose the chance of a proper education and the prospects it brings. 

This film shows how Hosna found the way to make the decision she wanted, not the decision her family sought to impose.

At 15, Layla was forced into marriage. She was beaten and raped by her husband’s brother. She fled from her home.

A kindly neighbour took her in. She helped her to move to another city. Only, she wasn’t the kindly help-mate Layla imagined...

Follow Nomvelo, a young Swazi woman born with HIV. 

How does she discuss practicing safe sex with her boyfriend and what does she decide to tell him about her HIV status?

Follow Odeta, a young Albanian woman, as she finds out she has an unplanned pregnancy. 

She has no idea what to do, where to go, or how to handle the situation with her family. She has to make a tough decision. So what happens next?

Valeria is 15. Her mother doesn’t want her to have a boyfriend. But she’s attracted to one of her brother’s friends and they have unprotected sex.

Soon after she’s faced with a tough decision. What would you do in her situation?

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Guides and publications

What do I do if I am living with HIV and...Some ideas for young women living with HIV

answers common questions asked by young women living with HIV

emphasises the rights of people living with HIV to information, treatment, and respect

links to further sources of information

encourages young women to make positive choices and stand up for their rights

recognises the diversity of young women’s experiences and desires

"You have the right to choose whether or not to marry, have sex, and to freely express your sexual orientation and gender identity. Living with HIV should not limit the possibilities you have to love and be loved."

Answers to questions raised by young women living with HIV, with practical rights-based information about dating and relationships; disclosing and HIV status; protecting a partner and safer sex; planning healthy pregnancy; preventing  pregnancy and safe abortion; and seeking support for rights violations and discrimination.


  • some tips for sharing your HIV status with your partner(s)
  • a checklist of ways to protect yourself from other STIs and your partner from HIV
  • some tips for negotiating safe sex
  • some tips to help you conceive safely
  • some tips to help you have a healthy pregnancy for you and your baby
  • tips on how to get help if you need it, including if your rights have been violated

How to get help if your rights have been violated p.10



I decide: young women’s journeys to seek abortion care

normalises the experiences of young women who become pregnant
informs about pregnancy risk-taking, contraception and abortion
encourages young women to seek support from parents when they can
provides a partner’s and parent’s perspective on unintended pregnancy
compares different contraceptive methods and different abortion methods

Nearly everyone knows someone who has faced an unplanned pregnancy but due to stigma and secrecy, particularly for young people, the issue is not discussed openly and young women and girls aren’t given the opportunity to think about these situations before they happen.

Ensuring access to safe abortion for young women is about upholding their rights to life, health, autonomy and their right to benefit from scientific progress.  Unsafe abortion is a major public health and human rights problem that disproportionately affects young women and girls.

This collection of stories based on real life experiences of young women around the world follow the young women’s decision-making about whether to continue or end an unintended pregnancy. The stories are told through diary entries and  accompanied by diary entries from the boyfriends and mothers of some of the young women.


  • a chart comparing the advantages and disadvantages of surgical and medical abortion methods
  • useful to know
  • a chart comparing common contraceptive methods
  • information about how young women may feel after abortion
  • useful websites about abortion, accessing an abortion if it isn’t legally available, and different abortion laws.


A chart comparing the advantages and disadvantages of surgical and medical abortion methods p.19

Exclaim – young people’s guide to ‘Sexual rights: an IPPF declaration’

builds on‘sexual rights: an IPPF Declaration’

introduces key concepts relating to human rights

explains how human rights apply to young people’s sexuality

examines ten fundamental sexual rights as they relate to young people

supports young people to increase their understanding of sexual rights


Young people are sexual beings. They have sexual needs, desires, fantasies and dreams. It is important for all young people around the world to be able to explore, experience and express their sexualities in healthy, positive, pleasurable and safe ways. This can only happen when young people’s sexual rights are guaranteed.


Young people’s rights are often neglected, ignored or misunderstood; and young people are especially vulnerable to sexual rights violations. Exclaim sets out a framework for understanding how human rights apply to young people’s sexuality. It offers practical ideas about how to translate sexual rights into actions for and by young people:

  • increase your own and your community’s knowledge and awareness about young people’s sexual rights and how they are different from adults’ rights
  • improve youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services
  • improve and expand comprehensive sexuality education
  • strengthen youth leadership and advocacy at local, national and regional levels


Learn more about what the ten core sexual rights are and what each right means for young people:

  • the right to equality
  • the right to participation
  • the right to life and to be free from harm
  • the right to privacy
  • the right to personal autonomy and to be recognized as an individual before the law
  • the right to think and express oneself freely
  • the right to health
  • the right to know and learn
  • the right to choose whether or not to marry or have children
  • the right to have your rights upheld



  • a glossary of key terms
  • a table of human rights agreements that are relevant to sexual rights
  • a poster summarising what sexual rights are and how they can help young people

Girls decide - choices on sex and pregnancy

defines sexuality

identifies barriers to education, participation and sexual health for young women recommends key actions for policy-makers

describes positive programmes, tools and strategies that make an impact

advocates supporting partners and parents to talk about sexuality and sexual health

"When girls and young women feel confident that their sexual identities, feelings, emotions, sexual behaviour and aspirations are legitimate and respected, they are empowered."

Girls decide presents a selection of innovative projects that are examples of good practice, and offer great potential for poverty reduction, female empowerment and development.

Holistic long-term projects which recognise and address the contexts of young women’s lives - cultural, religious, political, legal and social – are most effective.

Interventions which have a positive impact include:

  • provision of Comprehensive Sexuality Education, which addresses gender
  • supporting young women who face unintended pregnancy, including harm-reduction models in countries where abortion is not legally available, and provision of accurate information and confidential services
  • enabling parents to support their children on issues to do with sexual and reproductive health
  • ending harmful rituals marking a girl’s transition to adulthood and encouraging positive attitudes towards girls' bodies and physical development
  • targeting men as clients, partners and agents of change
  • delivering youth-friendly services
  • training young people to advocate for and communicate about issues related to sexuality and reproduction



  • facts and infographics highlighting the limited opportunities, and risks, faced by young women and girls around the world
  • key actions for policy-makers
  • a definition of sexuality
  • a graphic of factors which influence young people’s sexual and reproductive health
  • a case study on dealing with unintended pregnancy where abortion is legally restricted
  • case studies of projects around the world


Include as an example: factors which influence young people’s sexual and reproductive health p.12

Child Marriage Videos

In Bangladesh more than 60% of young women are married before they turn 18.

This film follows Nipa, who was forced into marriage as a schoolgirl. Why? She brought shame on her family by talking to a boy.

This film follows Kushboo, born into a poor family and a survivor of early and forced marriage. 

The effects are crippling for the victims, who are not emotionally or physically ready for marriage or children.

Early and forced marriage has terrible consequences for girls and young women.

This film follows the story of Ashmita, a survivor of early marriage and forced to give up her education at a young age.