Rima, 17, has become an activist against child marriage in her community in West Bengal, India. Despite facing threats from community members for reporting child marriages to the authorities, she braves attending school and remains hopeful about her future.

Adolescence – a crucial period in which gender norms consolidate and adolescents' attitudes about gender equality develop – presents unique risks and opportunities for girls and boys

Though girls and boys face similar challenges in early childhood, gender disparities become more pronounced in adolescence. Due to pervasive gender norms, adolescent girls, on average, face a disproportionate burden of unpaid work, expectations to marry, risks of early pregnancy as well as sexual and gender-based violence. Gender norms adversely impact adolescent boys as well. Norms around masculinity that encourage risk taking, for example, are linked to higher rates of death due to road injuries and homicides among older adolescent boys.

Advancing girls’ secondary education is one of the most transformative development strategies that countries can invest in

While both out-of-school adolescent boys and girls face social and economic marginalization, out-of-school girls are at greater risk of a range of adverse outcomes, including child marriage and adolescent childbearing.  

Worldwide, more girls than boys of primary school age are out of school, a pattern that holds across low, lower-middle and middle-income groups. Among girls and boys of lower secondary and upper secondary school age, the gender gap narrows, with boys slightly more likely to be out of school. But gender disparities are more complex across income groups. In low-income countries, girls of secondary school age are much more likely to be out of school while in middle and upper-middle income countries, boys are.


SDG Target 4.1 envisions that by 2030,  all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. 

Globally, slightly more girls than boys of primary school age are out of school, but the gender gap closes in lower and upper secondary school

Gender disparities in the HIV epidemic begin to emerge during adolescence

The distribution of new HIV infections among adolescent girls and boys varies by region, influenced by a wide range of gender inequalities and gender normsNew infections tend to disproportionately affect adolescent girls in countries with an HIV epidemic driven mostly by heterosexual intercourse or where transactional sex is prevalent, such as countries located in Eastern and Southern Africa and West and Central Africa. In countries where HIV is more concentrated among men who have sex with men or people who inject drugs, a greater proportion of new infections occurs among adolescent boys, including in countries in East Asia and the Pacific. 

SDG Target 3.3 seeks to end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases by 2030. 

Globally, 75 per cent of new HIV infections among adolescents aged 10–19 occur in girls

The ability of adolescent girls to manage their monthly menstrual cycle in privacy and with dignity is fundamental to their health, psychosocial well-being and mobility

In many places, the onset of puberty is a signal for constraining girls’ movement, schooling, friendships, and sexuality. Adolescent girls who lack access to adequate menstrual hygiene facilities and supplies may experience stigma and social exclusion and may not be able to take advantage of important educational, social and economic opportunities.  

In 22 of 28 countries with data, 10 per cent of adolescent girls or more reported not participating in one or more of the following activities during their last menstrual period: school, work or social activities. In Algeria, Chad, the Central African Republic and Gambia, at least 1 in 3 adolescent girls reported not participating.

In the majority of the countries with data, at least 10 per cent of adolescent girls aged 15–19 did not participate in work, school or social activities during their menstrual period

Gender norms that justify partner violence against women and girls as a form of punishment or as an acceptable way to resolve conflict normalize violence in relationships

The social acceptability of intimate partner violence is reflected in attitudes about wife-beating. Acceptance among adolescents suggests that it can be difficult for married girls experiencing violence to seek assistance, whether formally or informally, and for unmarried girls to identify and negotiate healthy and equitable relationships. 

Worldwide, more than one third of adolescent girls and boys aged 15–19 justify wife-beating under certain circumstances, and in Eastern and Southern Africa and West and Central Africa, girls are more likely than boys to do so.  

SDG Target 5.2 seeks to eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres. 

Globally, adolescent boys and girls are equally likely to report that it is justifiable for husbands to beat their wives

Many adolescent girls lack access to appropriate sexual and reproductive health services, including modern methods of contraception

For many adolescent girls, pregnancies are neither planned nor wanted. But girls face barriers to using effective contraception, including cost, stigma, lack of information, and limited decision-making autonomy. 

Globally, 60 percent of adolescent girls aged 15–19 have their needs for family planning satisfied by modern methods, but wide variation exists across regions. Fewer than 1 in 2 girls in Eastern and Southern Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and Western and Central Africa – the region with the highest adolescent birth rate – have their demands met, compared to more than 3 in 4 girls in North America and Western Europe. 

SDG Target 3.7 aims to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including family planning information and education and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes. 

Globally, 4 in 10 adolescent girls aged 15–19 who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern contraceptive method