Supporting girls today for the collective well-being of tomorrow

Posted: 2017-08-16
Written by: EU Network
Category: Battle of ideas
Tagged: women rights human rights development

Millions of girls globally face a number of challenges to fulfil their potential. In some parts of the world little girls  see limitless possibilities while in  other parts of the world their  horizons are limited. As they rewhile in  other parts of the world their  horizons are limited. As they reache puberty social and cultural norms, institutions and discriminatory laws block their path forward.  Little girls may be forced to marry, pulled out of school to begin a lifetime of childbearing and servitude to their husbands.

Failure to invest effectively in boys and especially in girls may have significant effects on economic growth, potentially holding back the progress of countries for years. Gender inequalities play a particularly important role in this process, both because inequalities in one domain reinforce inequalities in others. Failing to maximize the potential of young girls effectively reduces gains made in economic growth, health or productivity.

The International Labour Organization estimates that 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030 just to keep pace with the growth of the working-age population. Meeting the goals of providing decent work and ensuring economic growth will be impossible without building the capacity of both individuals and institutions.

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Almost six in 10 girls live in countries where  poverty remains common as well gender norms and practices place them at a significant disadvantage. Many of the outcomes of gender inequality, such as child marriage, forced or coerced sex, unintended pregnancy, or the denial of basic education, represent the subjugation of the basic human rights.

How much progress can we expect if the enormous potential of girls remains stifled and squandered? Ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages is essential to sustainable development.

Based on the latest available data from the  United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Institute of Statistics  there are 130 million girls not in school. The situation is particularly acute in countries that have recently experienced significant upheavals such as war or natural disasters. 15 million girls of primary-school age will never enter a classroom and over half of these girls live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Even in areas where conflict is less of a concern, significant proportions of children miss out on receiving a full education. For example, in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with one of the world’s largest youth populations, only 60 % of girls and 71 % of boys are enrolled in primary school. The figures are even more striking for secondary school.

 

Girls are less likely than boys to be enrolled in school, especially at the secondary level

 

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Poverty remains the most important factor for determining whether a girl can access an education. For example, in Nigeria only 4 % of poor young women can read.  

Adolescence is a critical turning point for girls. If girls’ education continues to secondary level, they will be better equipped to make informed choices about their lives. Too often, girls are married young, or are taken out of school to care for their brothers and sisters or to work to support themselves and their families.

Missing out on secondary schooling is particularly critical for the long-term prospects of these children because the global economy places a premium on the skills developed at the secondary school level,  and girls are at risk of falling even further behind.

 

Education is a strategic development priority

 

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Better educated girls and women tend to be healthier than uneducated ones, participate more in the formal labor market, earn higher incomes, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and enable better health care and education for their children, should they choose to become mothers. All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and nations out of poverty.

In many settings, late childhood and early adolescence are marked by an entry into the workforce. Many girls and older adolescents also work in family enterprises or wage-earning activities. These responsibilities invariably mean less time for schoolwork and may contribute to their dropping out of school. A child who misses out on an education is a child whose future economic potential is undermined.

 

Child labour rates are higher in less developed countries with larger proportions of children in the population

 

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Young girls are particularly likely to be engaged in child labour, although this is predominantly via household chores or other forms of unpaid work. As a result, girls are often less engaged with the formal labour market than boys. They may therefore be afforded less legal protection and are more susceptible to exploitative employment arrangements.

The majority of girls are entering adolescence and early adulthood in situations that present unique risks, such as child marriage. Given that one in three girls in the developing world today is married before turning 18. It is likely that many of them will soon also face risks of early pregnancy.

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Violence also negatively impacts access to education and a safe environment for learning. An emerging health concern for adolescents relates to their mental health, particularly for girls. Recent data from the World Health Organization indicate that suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescent girls between ages 10 and 19 at the global level, and the leading cause of death for girls between 15 and 19. Combining with information on the prevalence of violence experienced by adolescent girls, with one dying as a result of violence on average every 10 minutes globally.

However, although the challenges described above are significant, there is some cause for optimism about the future for these girls. Both India and China, which together are home to roughly one in three girls alive today. China and India are among the world’s fastest growing economies and have seen dramatic improvements in the opportunities available to youth.

The past two decades have also seen positive changes in the proportions of children attending school; declines in maternal and infant deaths; and a slow transition to greater gender equality. Significant strides have been made in increasing life expectancy and reducing some of the  comducing some of the  common killers associated witommon killers associated with child and maternal mortality. Major progress has been made on increasing access to clean water and sanitation, reducing malaria, tuberculosis, polio and the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, many more efforts are needed to fully eradicate a wide range of diseases and address many different persistent and emerging health issues.

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There are four key areas where increased investments and attention could have multiplier impacts on the lives of girls and women globally:
• Keep girls in school to complete a quality secondary education.
• Urgently improve reproductive health, including access to family planning services.
• Increase women’s control over productive and financial assets.
• Women empowerment and leadership  at all levels.

The most compelling is the link between adolescent girls’ education and their sexual and reproductive health needs. Educated girls and women, as well as those in employment, are more likely to use maternal health care and antenatal health care services, thus reducing child mortality rates. Meeting need for sexual and reproductive health services increases chances of finishing education, and breaking girls out of poverty. Laws and practices which limit girls and women  ability to control their sexual and reproductive health severely compromise their autonomy, equality and health as well as their children’s health.

Sintija Bernava
Chairwoman of the Board of Non Governmental Organisation "Donum Animus" (Latvia)
"Donum Animus" is the only  Non Governmental Organisation from Latvia holding Special Consultative Status of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

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