ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 8 April 2009 – Parliamentarians are convening in Addis Ababa today to address the urgent need for accelerated progress in protecting the rights of adolescent girls and ending gender discrimination if development goals are to be met.
Parliamentarians attending the 120th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) will discuss the role they can play in securing the rights of adolescent girls to survival, health care, education, protection and participation.
"Addressing discrimination and promoting the well-being and empowerment of adolescent girls is not only a question of human rights and gender equality, it is also at the core of development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals," said IPU President Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, who is also Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Namibia. "Gender-based discrimination permeates all of our societies, with no exception, and we need to address that as a matter of urgency. Among those most affected, though often forgotten and invisible, are adolescent girls. We need to make their plight visible."
Gender-based discrimination and gender inequalities – often passed on from generation to generation by cultural tradition and economic, social and political norms – have numerous harmful effects on adolescent girls. In many parts of the world the largest percentage of children out of school and of victims of physical, sexual, emotional abuse and economic exploitation are girls. Girls are more likely to be trafficked, to disappear or to die unknown.
Programmes that promote schooling, livelihood skills, social assets, freedom from violence, positive health-seeking behaviours and better access to sexual and reproductive health education and services for adolescent girls will have ripple effects across different development goals. They will help reduce maternal mortality and associated child mortality (MDGs 4 and 5), reduce HIV infection (MDG 6), promote gender equality (MDG 3) and contribute to poverty reduction (MDG 1).
Dr. Nicholas Alipui, UNICEF Director of Programmes, said that a "safe, healthy, educated and economically empowered girl can meet the challenges of poverty and ignite progress. An educated and empowered girl will be better able to take care of herself and to contribute to her community and country both economically as an individual and as a potential mother. With the right opportunities, an adolescent girl will marry later, have fewer children, and invest almost 90 percent of her income back into her family. Investing in adolescent girls will not only benefit girls themselves, but society as a whole."
Despite the profound impact that educated, empowered adolescent girls can have on breaking the cycle of poverty, less than half a cent of every international development dollar is spent on them.
During a joint panel organized by the IPU and UNICEF and chaired by the first lady of Ethiopia, Ms. Azeb Mesfin, herself a member of parliament and Chair of the Social Affairs Committee, parliamentarians focused on three key ways they can improve the lives of adolescent girls. They are:
Investing in educating adolescent girls. Too often adolescent girls are excluded from school because of poverty, the need to work, marital status and pregnancy. Adolescents who are not in school are hard to reach with health information or services and are more vulnerable to violence and coercion.
Promoting an end to violence against girls in all settings - in the home, in school, and in the immediate community. Parliamentarians can work to support child-friendly schools and communities. They can ensure that law enforcement agencies, health care providers and community leaders are aware of their responsibility to protect all girls from all forms of violence and to provide support to those who are victims of violence. While violence is present across the life cycle, sexual violence in particular increases during adolescence. Child marriage and early child-bearing, female genital mutilation/cutting, trafficking for commercial sex, abduction into sex slavery at the hands of military forces - these are just a few of the challenges facing adolescent girls.
Building partnerships with the private sector and government to ensure that girls have opportunities to make a successful transition from school to work. It is essential to build the skills of adolescent girls and enhance opportunities for them to participate more equally in the critical and routine decision-making processes that affect their lives and help them develop leadership capacities, network and secure their economic independence.
Parliamentarians also discussed how they can work within their own constituencies to ensure that the voices of girls are heard and to help build the life skills that will enable adolescent girls to participate in public life, including the economic life, of their countries. Key to promoting the well-being of adolescent girls is reaching even the most marginalized among them – those who are socially excluded, unprotected and living in the most marginalized, forgotten families.
"We must reach out to all children who remain invisible to our efforts," Alipui said. "Reaching the most marginalized adolescent girls cannot always be done by doing more of the same; special efforts and increased investments need to be made to reach all adolescent girls with the protection and services they deserve."
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
Established in 1889 and with Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the IPU – the oldest multilateral political organization in the world – currently brings together 155 parliaments and eight associated regional assemblies. The world organization of parliaments also has an office in New York, which acts as its Permanent Observer to the United Nations. IPU website: www.ipu.org
For more information, please contact:
Dr. Kerida McDonald, Chief, Communication Cluster, UNICEF Ethiopia. Tel: 011 5184 000. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Indrias Getachew, Head, UNICEF Ethiopia Media and External Relations Unit. Tel: 011 5 184 000. E-mail: email@example.com Luisa Ballin, IPU Information Officer. Tel: 011 55482 49; mobile 0910 52 90 67. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com Kareen Jabre, IPU Gender Partnership Programme Manager. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org