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The world has made progressive strides when it comes to women's rights, but as new research suggests, we still have quite a long way to go – even in Canada.

Girls Speak Out – a survey commissioned by children's rights organization Plan International – found only 37 per cent of young women in Equador, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Zimbabwe believe they are given the same opportunities as boys, with most indicating they feel a lack of control regarding crucial life decisions such as marriage and childbirth.

The report states that 15-million girls under the age of 18 are forced into marriage annually around the world.

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Fifty per cent of the young women surveyed say they do not feel safe using public restrooms at school due to lack of security, and 47 per cent say they do not feel safe on their way to school.

The study interviewed over 4,200 women ages 15 to 19 to mark International Day of the Girl on Oct. 11.

"In the past few decades there have been a great amount of problems in the area of education and the area of maternal health," says Nidhi Bansal, Plan Canada senior gender equality advisor.

Bansal says since the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goalswere put in place in 2000, more girls have been receiving a primary education than ever before and far fewer women are dying of maternal mortality. The rate decreased by almost 50 per cent since 1990, she says.

Last month, the U.N. released its Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years, which identified gender equality as a central issue. The goal focuses on achieving equality, empowering girls and women, providing them with education, ensuring equal participation in the labour force and addressing harmful traditional practices like child marriage, Bansal adds.

Plan International added a Canadian addendum to the global report. A focus group of about 20 women, ages 15 to 23, were also interviewed about the way they perceive their own rights.

The Canadians in the study identified a lack of approval of women in the traditionally male-dominated fields of math, science and sports. The participants also indicated that it is less common to see women in management jobs in the workplace and in leadership positions in the political realm.

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"I think [women] are highly underrepresented," says Cara Lew, Plan Canada's youth ambassador.

Lew, 23, believes there is a general attitude in many Canadian workplaces that women cannot hold leadership roles or perform the same tasks as men. Something small like a comment in the lunch room about a woman's appearance or a comment about a woman's lack of strength to perform certain tasks is problematic, she says.

"It's those sorts of attitudes that fuel greater issues," she says.

The Girls Speak Out research is part of the larger Because I am a Girl, State of the World's Girls report, called the Unfinished Business of Girls' Rights.

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