The International Community Must Ensure That No Girl Is Left Behind

Written by Carolyn Miles, Advisor, Gender Equality and Girls’ Empowerment at Save the Children

The world’s girls deserve an action coalition that is focused holistically on their lives and includes their participation. #GenerationEquality starts in childhood. Let’s work together with girls to ensure that no girl is left behind!

The year 2020 is a crucial opportunity to look back at international commitments to achieve girls’ rights, assess our progress and take concrete, forward-looking action. For girls, this has never been so urgent. All over the world, too many girls remain in danger of being left behind on global progress, risking their futures, as well as the prospects of sustainable development, global peace and the achievement of girls’ universal human rights. However, today, girls risk falling through the gaps of a new global process intended to accelerate progress for gender equality over the critical next five years.

Today, UN Women released its plans to rally the international community to accelerate progress for gender equality over the next five years by creating a set of “action coalitions” to drive concrete progress on gender equality.

Despite the fact that a 16-year-old girl was named Time magazine’s person of the year, the world’s girls continue to face rights violations. An estimated 12 million girls continue to be married each year,[ii] contributing to the leading cause of death for adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19: pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. The second most common cause is suicide.[iii] In countries where female genital mutilation is most concentrated, the majority of girls are cut by the time they are 14.[iv] If there was a time to bring about a step change in girls’ rights, then 2020 is the year. 

Twenty-five years ago, the international community came together and adopted what is considered to be the most progressive blueprint written on women’s and girls’ rights. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference for Women, was endorsed by 189 countries and later adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly.

Crucially, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was the first global document that recognized girls as a distinct group, facing specific rights violations and needs due to the intersection of age and gender. It dedicated a standalone section to addressing the specific rights violations that girls experience – affirming their rights not only to health and education, but also to have a voice in shaping the decisions that impact their lives.

Yet despite comprehensive commitments to girls, 25 years later, girls continue to fall through programmatic and policy gap, and girls’ voices – their hopes and dreams for the futures – too often go unheard.

A failure to systematically and consistently include girls’ voices and perspectives in policy making and accountability processes compounds the issue. As governments, UN agencies, civil society and other actors come together on the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we must seize this opportunity. This is a watershed moment for girls, and the international community must not fail them.

I recently met a girl named Khadra while visiting a Somali refugee camp. After her husband, to whom she was married at age 13, left her behind to marry another girl in the village, Khadra was struggling to support her two small children on her own. Though Khadra told me she had done well in her studies and was ready to go on to secondary school, the decision to get married at age 13 and to stop her education was not her own.

Tackling issues such as child marriage are complex. They often reflect compounding forms of discrimination and require holistic investment – in education, health care as well as in voice and agency. At the national level, many countries are developing integrated costed national action plans to accelerate progress for girls; a global system that mirrors and supports that ambition is critical.

Photo credit: Save the Children
Anxhela, Cecelia and Keren hold signs supporting girls’ rights during Save the Children’s Bridge the Gap for Girls event in Brooklyn, New York on International Day of the Girl. “That day, I felt more energetic, optimistic and motivated to continue my fight for girls’ rights, said 16-year old Anxhela, “and empowerment that can lead them to a better life and future.”Photo credit: Save the Children, 2019.

All over the world, when given the slightest opportunity or encouragement, we see girls demanding their own seat at the table. Just this past October, three girls, Anxhela from North-East Albania, Cecelia from Malawi and Keren from Peru, joined me in leading Save the Children’s Bridge the Gap for Girls walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. They also participated in a panel discussion at the U.S. Senate, where they spoke about the importance of girls’ voices and the meaningful participation of girls in policy spaces. Anxhela, Cecelia and Keren, along with so many other girl champions, are making their voices heard and their communities stronger and healthier, taking on some of the toughest challenges of their societies.

As the international community, we must stand with girls like these across the globe and ensure that they have a strong platform to use to shape their future – and that we are accountable to them. The best opportunity for this to happen is for there to be an action coalition focused on adolescent girls that looks holistically at their lives and that includes their participation throughout the process.

We know from experience that girls face distinct rights violations, and they need a concrete action plan tailored to address their specific gender- and age-driven needs.

#GenerationEquality starts in childhood. Let’s work together with girls to ensure that they are not left behind!

 

[i] UNESCO UNESCO; UNICEF, Save the Children, Many Faces of Exclusion

[ii] Girls Not Brides

[iii] WHO

[iv] UNICEF