International Day of the Girl Child

Today is the International Day of the Girl Child. In September of 2015, the United Nations General Assembly voted to adopt Sustainable Development Goals. For the first time World Leaders together committed to reverse the long-standing neglect of the poorest and most excluded people. They pledged that in this next era of global development, no one will be left behind. Girls must be at the heart of that pledge, not only because excluded girls are often among the poorest and most marginalised in society, but also because when a girl is empowered and has agency to transform her life, whole societies are transformed in the process.

Girls are key to all of us achieving the SDGs. Goal 5 specifically addresses gender equality, calling for an end to gender discrimination around the world. It specifically draws attention to the need to promote and fulfill girls’ and women’s rights to health (sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights), education and protection from violence. Goal 5 also calls for the inclusion and participation of girls and women in the decision making that effects their lives at political, economic, community and household levels.

We know that far too often girls experience terrible violations of their rights. Over one million girls give birth before the age of fifteen and complications during childbirth are the second highest cause of death for adolescent girls. Approximately 31 million girls are not in primary school, and 32 million are not in secondary school.

Unless we reverse current trends, 15 million girls under the age of eighteen will be married every year for the next decade. We know that girls who are married and/or become mothers at a young age are unlikely to be able to complete school. This means they are much more likely to live in poverty, and their children are more likely to repeat this cycle.

Gender equality will transform our world. That transformation is possible only if it involves and benefits girls and women as much as men and boys. As we work to achieve a better world with and for girls and women, we also work to achieve a better world with and for men and boys.

We know that the success of the SDGs hinges on gender equality. And it’s important to understand that gender equality is not just about girls and women. Gender inequality also affects boys and men and can be reinforced by them, and so men and boys are key players in creating a world where girls and boys, men and women are all equal.

Each of the SDGs can illustrate how girls are often the most marginalized and excluded, but also how their inclusion and meaningful participation can lead to agency, empowerment, and transformation. So, we believe all 17 SDGs should be understood as ‘Girl Goals’.

Why is access to Clean Water and Sanitation (Goal 6) also a Girls’ Goal? While everyone has a right to clean water, in developing countries girls are most often responsible for fetching it. When that clean water is far from home, they often loose time at school. On the journey to and from the water source they may be at risk of sexual assault or, if they live in conflict-affected countries, kidnapping or death.

Goal 8 – Decent Work – is a Girls’ Goal because girls and women have a right to economic justice. Improving the income potential of girls and women by ending gender discrimination in employment, access to financial services and land tenure and inheritance is key to ensuring that girls and women are able to make choices in their lives that will lead to their self-determination.

Why is gender equality important for girls and boys, men and women? Today, the world’s rigid socialization into different gender roles for girls and boys, places them in an unequal power structure. For example, girls and boys are assigned different types of work, and families often have different expectations about their children’s future, based on whether they are male or female.  This socialization is limiting for girls and for boys. Gender equality will enable girls and boys to live richer lives that reflect their own dreams, realize their rights, and fulfil their full potential regardless of their gender. If we are to achieve gender equality we must address these root causes of inequality as it is expressed in the home, in the community and within the political and legal structures.

The Sustainable Development Goals have the potential to bring revolutionary change. It will require us all – governments, business, civil society, parents and girls and boys themselves to make this potential a reality.  But we all stand to benefit immeasurably once they are achieved.

To find out more about #GirlGoals