By: Joanna Hoffman, Women Deliver
Today marks the second-ever International Day of the Girl, a call to action for the rights of girls worldwide. This year’s theme, “Innovating for Girls’ Education”, is representative of current global development needs, all of which center around girls’ access to education. When girls are educated, they are less likely to become child brides, less likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth, less likely to be infected with HIV, and more likely to have healthy children and long, empowered lives. Simply put, educating girls is a win for the entire world.
One of the most notable voices for girls' education is Malala Yousefzai, the 16 year-old girl shot by the Taliban for speaking up for the rights of girls to attend school. As she told the UN in a speech this past July, “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world.” What makes Malala a compelling voice for young people, in addition to her unfathomable bravery and dedication, is the fact that she herself is a young person. Young people are the best positioned to define their own needs, and to ask for these needs to be met.
This was the guiding principle in developing the Girl Declaration, a document presented to the UN today by a coalition of 500 girls and 25 organizations, which calls for investment in the 250 million girls across the world living in poverty and facing marginalization. Signed by notable global advocates including Malala, Ireland's former President Mary Robinson, and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the declaration’s goals focus on health, education, safety, economic security, and citizenship. The goals were crowd-sourced by asking hundreds of girls in the developing world about the main challenges facing them, and then translating those into post-2015 agenda items.
The declaration includes the actual voices of girls throughout the world talking about their hopes and dreams:
“I wish I could complete my studies and become someone important in the future so that I can help my fellow girls to prosper in the future.”
“Girls’ bodies are not ready for childbirth but we do not all know this, and our communities do not understand.”
“I hope when I return from my Qur’an class I won’t walk alone. I have to be with my friends so I won’t be kidnapped.”
“My biggest hope is that people have opportunities to work and that there is no more corruption.”
“They shouldn’t make the girls stay inside. They should just teach the boys how to behave.”
The goals developed are as follows:
- EDUCATION: Girls reach adulthood with relevant skills and knowledge to participate in economic, social and cultural life.
- HEALTH: Girls have access to appropriate health services and possess the confidence to make healthy transitions to adulthood.
- SAFETY: Girls are free from violence and exploitation and are supported by enforced laws, child protection systems and their communities.
- ECONOMIC SECURITY: Girls can build and protect their economic assets and earn a safe income. Governments, communities and the private sector uphold girls' economic rights.
- CITIZENSHIP: Girls have equal access to services, opportunities, legal rights and personal freedom, and are able to fully participate as citizens of their communities.
The voices included in this declaration represent girls around the world wanting to live healthy, empowered lives. One of the largest obstacles standing in their way is child marriage. Child brides do not receive the educational and economic opportunities that help lift them out of poverty and which are necessary to build a sustainable and prosperous future for their communities and for our country. When girls are educated, however, the benefits are widely felt: mortality rates of children whose mothers have at least seven years of education are up to 58% lower than rates among children whose mothers have no education.
Education can be one of the most powerful tools to enable girls to avoid early marriage. The longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married before the age of 18 and to have children during her teenage years. With secondary schooling, girls are up to six times less likely to marry as children when compared to girls who have little or no education.
There is increasing global recognition of the need to end child marriage and that protecting the needs and rights of adolescent girls must at the heart of global development efforts. On 27 September 2013, over 100 countries unanimously adopted a resolution on child, early and forced marriage at the Human Rights Council. The resolution recognises child, early and forced marriage as a human rights violation that “prevents individuals from living their lives free from all forms of violence” and negatively impacts the “right to education, and the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health.”
In his annual report to the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reflected on a new development agenda to begin in 2015. He stated that to ensure the equal rights of women and girls and their full participation in society, “The practice of child marriage must be ended everywhere”.
Women Deliver is a member of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, a global partnership of over 300 non-governmental organisations working in over 50 countries, united by our commitment to end child marriage and enable girls to fulfil their potential. We hope that you will join us in advocating for the rights of girls everywhere to be girls, not brides, and to have access to the education and services they need to reach their full potential. Today may be the International Day of the Girl, but every day is a chance to do everything in our own power to help girls have the tools they need to succeed, and then move out of the way to let them lead us forward.