Every day, girls under-18 are challenging stereotypes, breaking barriers, and leading movements to tackle the issues that affect them, and beyond, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the Day.
“As the theme of this year’s observance underscores, they are proving to be unscripted and unstoppable” in their undertakings, from eliminating child marriage, to closing the education gap, addressing violence and standing strong against the climate crisis.
The Day is an opportunity to recognize developments in the livelihoods of girls since the adoption of a visionary blueprint for the empowerment of women and girls in 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which grew out of a meeting involving some 30,000 men and women at the Fourth World Conference on Women, in China.
Since the landmark policy agenda was put into force, Mr. Guterres highlighted that “we have seen more girls attending and completing school, fewer getting married or becoming mothers while still children themselves, and gaining the skills they need to excel in the workplace.”
Figures from the UN’s children’s agency (UNICEF) indicate that in the past decade, the proportion of young women who were married as children has decreased by 15 per cent, and from the year 2000 to 2016, the number of girls out of school at the primary level, fell from 58 to 34 million.
Yet, many are still barred from reaching their full potential, and “it is no longer acceptable for girls to have to scale-back their dreams or be made to believe they were unreachable in the first place,” the UN chief urged.
Harmful gender norms can take hold of girls’ livelihoods, as they “influence everything they do”, Mr. Guterres noted. Such expectations dictate their marriages, limit school attendance, access to health services or earning a living, among other vital aspects of their lives.
A number of factors have a tight grip on their futures, with 200 million girls and women subjected to female genital mutilation worldwide, women and girls representing three of every four trafficking victims, and for those living in crises, the protracted nature of conflict can affect the future of entire generations, according to UNICEF.
Shortfalls in education mean youth growing up in conflict will also be deprived of skills to contribute to their families and economies, exacerbating desperate situations and spiraling into crisis. However for every year of secondary schooling a girl receives, her earning ability is boosted by as much as 25 per cent.
To ensure a bright future for all young girls, “we need concerted efforts and investments in their health, safety and 21st-Century skills,” the Secretary-General said.
“If all girls and boys complete secondary education, 420 million people could be lifted out of poverty. The benefits unfold across generations”, he explained.
Efforts to empower girls around the world were reinforced on Friday, through the announcement of a multi-year partnership between UNICEF and a skincare brand to support the agency’s Gender Equality Program.
Clé de Peau Beauté, a luxury skincare and makeup brand of Tokyo-based Shiseido Company Limited, pledged the world’s largest contribution of $8.7 million to fund the initiative, making it the first ever Japanese brand to commit to a multi-year effort with UNICEF for girls’ empowerment and education.
The beauty brand’s contribution will reach some 6.5 million girls through programs in empowerment, employment and education, which UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, has deemed “one of the best ladders out of poverty.”
On 10 October, rights experts in Geneva applauded the efforts of girls and young women around the world, calling youth activism, spearheaded by girls, a means of bringing about “a fresh energy and renewed sense of urgency” to issues than generations before them, and they are earning their recognition.
Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel laureate at the age of 17; 16-year-old Greta Thunberg grabbed world attention this year through her commitment to combatting climate change, and Autumn Peltier, the 13-year-old indigenous girl and clean water advocate, has been nominated for a global peace prize.
Evidence is mounting that “girls can be powerful agents of change”, Mr. Guterres stressed, “and nothing should keep them from participating fully in all areas of life.”