In partnership with:

This comprehensive report by Plan International, in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, delves into the profound impact of media representations on the leadership aspirations of girls and young women globally. Analyzing popular films across 20 countries, the study reveals a persistent underrepresentation and stereotyping of female characters, particularly in leadership roles, which significantly shapes young viewers’ perceptions and ambitions. The report calls for media to break away from entrenched stereotypes and advocate for equitable portrayals that inspire young women to envision and achieve leadership roles. Recommendations focus on increasing visibility and depth in female leadership portrayals to foster a world where every girl can see and aspire to her full potential.

Key Findings

Girls and young women have told us clearly that they are influenced by what they see on screen. And the underlying messages of the films analyzed have changed little for decades: Male characters dominate the storylines; women leaders, where they do exist, may be portrayed as intelligent, likable, and effective, but they are also sexualised and objectified; female leadership is rare, and at national level, women leaders are allegedly not up to the job.

  • The overall makeup of the characters in the top-grossing films analyzed for 2018 reflect the identities of the films’ producers rather than their audience: They are white, male, and middle-class.
  • Where the films portray female leadership, women leaders are shown in some contexts — at work, in the community, and as part of the family — as more intelligent and more effective than male leaders. This changes at the national level.
  • In all contexts male leaders are much more visible: Overall, 42% of male characters, compared with 27% of female characters, are shown on screen as leaders.
  • Overall, more female leaders than male leaders are shown as intelligent: 81% compared with 62%.
  • Male leaders at national level are shown as more effective than their female counterparts: 57% compared with 44%
  • Female leaders are far more likely than male leaders to be shown wearing revealing clothing: 30% compared with 7%
  • Female leaders are nearly two times more likely than male leaders to be shown as partially nude: 15% compared with 8%.
  • Characters who are female leaders are more likely than male leaders to be shown completely naked at some point in the film: 2% compared with 0.5%.
  • Female leaders are more likely than male leaders to be sexually objectified: 15% compared with 4%.
  • Female leaders are more likely than male leaders to be sexually harassed: 5% compared with 1%.


Girls and young women are also clear that they need role models on screen. They need to see themselves in the stories that surround them if they are to achieve gender equality, and their capacity for leadership should be recognized and encouraged.

  • To be it, they must see it. Make stories about female leadership visible and normal.
  • Stop the sexualisation and the objectification of women and girls on screen.
  • Fund female filmmakers, programme makers and content producers and address harassment and discrimination in the workplace, to encourage girls and young women into the entertainment industry at all levels.

Design: Sandra Dudley • Icons: Flaticon / Freepik