|At the at the 'Girl Power and Potential' reception on 3 March 2009 (from left): Noella Coursaris Musunka, moderator Tamara Kreinin, Marcia Azucena Yat Jor, and Yolanda Taylor from the UN Foundation.|
By Becca Journey
NEW YORK, USA, 6 March 2009 – Leaders from seven international organizations converged for a 'Girl Power and Potential' reception this week in New York. The event featured a panel of speakers outlining the strategies and goals of the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Adolescent Girls.
Founded in 2007 in partnership with the UN Foundation, the task force represents the combined forces of UNICEF, the UN Population Fund, the International Labour Organization, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the UN Development Fund for Women and the World Health Organization.
This collaborative initiative aims to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals by targeting disenfranchised adolescent girls in developing countries.
Global mandate to reach 'invisible girls'
Participants in a panel discussion at the reception on 3 March said the task force will scale up efforts to ensure that adolescent girls are counted in upcoming census rounds. Reliable data and statistics are essential to tailoring and monitoring effective programmes that are sensitive to the different needs of various populations.
So-called 'invisible girls' include those affected by armed conflict, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, trafficking and internal displacement, the 'Girl Power' speakers noted. These young girls and women are living at the margins and therefore remain largely absent from development statistics, they said.
The global economic crisis has rendered the over 600 million girls living in the developing world especially vulnerable. UNICEF has called for expanded support for the most marginalized in these unstable times.
A holistic approach to development
UNICEF Director of UN Affairs and External Relations Cecilia Lotse described the urgency of gender equality reforms and the need to curb early-marriage trends. Each year, 15 million adolescent girls become mothers, and most of them are forced to defer their dreams.
|UNICEF Director of UN Affairs and External Relations Cecilia Lotse speaks about the significance of the UN interagency network.|
"The struggle to end gender discrimination and ensure empowerment of women begins with ensuring equal opportunities for girls," said Ms. Lotse.
The UN task force has called for a holistic approach to aid for adolescent girls. This means investing in girls' empowerment by addressing all aspects of their development – including health, gender equality and basic education – to break an inter-generational cycle of poverty.
To that end, the task force will promote a programme framework with three major focus areas: targeting the most marginalized adolescent girls; ensuring access to accurate data review and analysis; and promoting community-based health care and education initiatives.
'Partnerships are fundamental'
UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Purnima Mane pointed out that investing in adolescent girls – their education health, livelihoods and participation – can bring enormous dividends in terms of social justice and economic development.
“We know that adolescent girls face numerous challenges that cannot be addressed by any one agency or sector alone. Partnerships are fundamental,” said Ms. Mane. “At the UN level, the Interagency Task Force on Adolescent Girls supports governments and partners to advocate for and make strategic investments in national policies and programmes focusing on adolescent girls in order to promote and protect their rights.
“Delivering as one, the UN with our partners will continue to strengthen our support to efforts focusing on adolescent girls,” she added.
Advancing girls' education
A keynote speaker at the reception, Congolese-Cypriot model and human rights activist Noella Coursaris Musunka, 23, said she was determined to give girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the same chance at quality education that she was fortunate enough to receive.
Ms. Musunka was sent to live with relatives in Belgium at the age of five after her father died. She embarked on a modeling career and returned to DR Congo 13 years later. In 2007, she founded the Georges Malaika Foundation, a non-governmental organization dedicated to advancing girls' education in DR Congo. Since then, the foundation has sponsored the education of 15 young girls, providing their tuition, school supplies and living expenses.
Plans are also in the works for the foundation to build an environmentally friendly school operated with solar power in Kalebuka, a poor district in southeast DR Congo that currently lacks an adequate education infrastructure.
Entry point into the global dialogue
Marcia Azucena Yat Jor, 18, an indigenous Mayan high school student from Guatemala, also spoke at the reception. She described her leadership role with the Abriendo Oportunidades programme, where she mentors adolescent girls and teaches other young women to become peer mentors themselves.
Marcia said she intends to study psychology or nursing in college and to continue working with girls and women in her community.
Ms. Musunka's and Marcia's stories demonstrated the potential of community-based development and education programmes to empower the next generation of women. UNICEF believes that education gives girls in the developing world an entry point into the global dialogue from which they have too often been excluded.