With the #MeToo movement dominating public discussion recently, Caroline Riseboro has noticed new attention on the work she does. As the President and CEO of the international rights and equality organization, Plan International Canada, she helps fight for equality for women and girls worldwide.
“We’ve been screaming from the rooftops for a while,” Riseboro says, “but it’s only now that the public perception of gender equality has started to catch up to the reality.” Girls and women face unique barriers, including pervasive gender discrimination and women’s rights violations, which often prevent them from achieving their potential. For instance, globally, 15 million girls are forced into early or childhood marriage each year; there are currently more than 130 million girls out of school; and complications during pregnancy and childbirth are still the leading cause of death for girls between 15 and 19 years old, despite our knowing how to save their lives.
“We can’t limit our attention of #MeToo and the gender movement that’s grown over recent years to North America,” says Riseboro. “Rights are universal —  and so too should be the battle to enforce them.”

Affecting the future

During a recent trip to El Salvador, Riseboro learned that girls under 18 account for 30 percent of all pregnancies there. “The issue of early pregnancy is exacerbated by harmful gender stereotypes and the perception that a girl’s only role is motherhood,” she says.
In one of the country’s regions where Plan International works, that number has been reduced to zero by engaging youth in opportunities to learn about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Interventions like these help provide a pathway to brighter futures — educating girls when they’re young results in healthier women with higher incomes and increased decision-making abilities.
“As we’ve seen in El Salvador, in so many communities worldwide and here at home, empowering girls and women creates a ripple effect that benefits whole societies.”

Equality for all

“Even though we’re primarily known for our Because I am a Girl initiative, we don’t only work with women and girls,” says Riseboro. “We partner with communities in 75 countries, striving to achieve gender equality for all. That means actively involving men and boys. I’ve seen men become really engaged with this work once they have a daughter. But we’ve got to get past that. Regardless, men have an important role to play.”
Countries where women have more education and access to their rights, according to Riseboro, are more prosperous.
“Working together to protect children and empower women and girls is the solution,” says Riseboro. “Gender equality means a better world for us all.”