The United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA says girls, particularly in the developed world today enjoy better life prospects than previous generations in many ways such as prosperity and nutrition improvement, child marriage and teenage pregnancy decline, coupled with educational attainment and rise in participation in the labour force, but these advances are far from universal and are increasingly tenuous in many parts of the world.
UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem in a statement issued on Wednesday, 11 October to mark International Day of the Girl Child, says the poorest—particularly girls—are often left behind, and their rights undermined.
Dr. Kanem says they get less education, have fewer opportunities and are more likely to take jobs that pay less and involve more risk than girls who are economically better off.
“ In addition to the social forces against them, girls continue to face high levels of gender-based violence, unwanted pregnancies, and unsafe deliveries. One in four girls will be married before she is 18, and one in five adolescent girls aged 15-19 will give birth”, she notes.
She further laments that entrenched gender inequalities, disasters and conflict can make a bad situation even worse for girls, so they and their families, struggling to survive, are left with few choices, leaving girls even more vulnerable to child marriage, sexual- and gender-based violence, including trafficking, rape and sexual slavery. “They are faced with the cruel reality of heightened risks to their sexual and reproductive health and diminished access to critical health care.”
However, Dr. Kanem says despite these challenges, many girls manage to play a critical role in their homes and communities, even in crises, and are often the first responders, who care for their families and establish networks that produce the social capital and resilience communities need to survive, emphasizing that “Protecting and promoting their rights, health, and well-being is therefore an essential element of crisis preparedness, effective response and recovery.”
UNFPA works towards ensuring that girls are healthy, empowered and, thus, more resilient in the face of crises and in the rebuilding of their societies. The organization supports the development of more inclusive health, education, and empowerment programmes that are age- and gender-responsive, often girl-led, and enhance the voices of girls at the community level.
Dr. Kanem says from creating safe spaces, to providing sexual and reproductive health information and services, to facilitating youth leadership and participation, UNFPA and partners are innovating to reach, engage and empower adolescent girls to respond not just to their needs, but to their aspirations.
“As part of UNFPA’s transformational goals, we will continue working with our partners to end violence against girls, including child marriage and female genital mutilation. We will work to ensure that all girls, everywhere, enjoy their full spectrum of rights and have the opportunities they need to fulfill their potential”, the statement concludes. Story by Jonathan Browne