Online debate “A new era for girls"

UN Women, Plan International and UNICEF came together - online - to talk about the challenges ahead to realise gender equality

UNICEF, UN Women, Plan International
On 24 February 2019 in Bangladesh, a girl studies with new UNICEF-supported learning materials in class of level 4-5 in a learning centre in Camp 18 Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar.
UNICEF/UN0284179/Lemoyne
02 April 2020

As we celebrate 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action it is time to take stock and face the facts: despite some progress, real change has been agonizingly slow for the majority of women and girls in the world and today, not a single country can claim to have achieved true gender equality. While girls’ lives are better today than 25 years ago, gains remain uneven across regions and countries, particularly for adolescent girls.

On Monday 30th March 2020, the EU Offices of Plan International, UNICEF and UN Women jointly hosted an online debate to reflect on the recent report ‘A New Era for Girls’. The debate explored how international organizations and NGOs, together with the European Union (EU), as a strong global voice committed to gender equality, can shape important actions that can enable girls to successfully transition into adulthood.

Dagmar Schumacher, Director of the UN Women Brussels Office, urged all participants and speakers in her opening remarks

"to drive a transformative agenda forward, one that would allow increasing involvement of girls and women all over the world to ensure they will be able to make their own choices and shape their own lives”. 

Sagri Singh, Senior Adviser on Gender Equality at UNICEF presented the findings of the report and emphasized how crucial it is to be focussing on realities girls face today and addressed the critical issues of ending gender-based violence (GBV), child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM); making sure girls have access to 12 years of education and the skills they need for the workforce; and improving girls’ health and nutrition. Ms. Singh highlighted that

"while it is encouraging that more girls are in school worldwide, overwhelmingly they are still not attaining the quality education and skills that are critical for life and work. All girls, including the most vulnerable and marginalized, must be reached with programmes that teach them STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), digital and transferable skills, like communication and critical thinking, as well as confidence, to ensure they can transition from school to work."

The report further highlights that since 1995, the proportion of young women who were married as children has declined globally from one in four to approximately one in five. Encouragingly, this is happening in countries where a large number of girls are at risk, such as in South Asia. Another encouraging development that resulted from the report, is the fact that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been receiving more opposition over the past 25 years. In the last two decades, the proportion of girls and women aged 15-49 years in high prevalence countries who want the practice to stop has doubled.

Chiara Adamo, Head of the Gender Equality Unit of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation (DG DEVCO), underlined the European Commission’s mission to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. The joint European Union - United Nations’ Spotlight Initiative and the #WithHer campaign showcases the extent of their intention. She highlighted the fact that about 50% of the global female population is still not using the internet. The digital divide is growing, and although it comes with new forms of violence, such as cyber bullying, we should not underestimate the possibilities digitalisation can bring unlocking the power of girls and women. Ms. Adamo also highlighted the fact that, besides violence, education and health are key for gender equality. “These three are linked sectors and action can only be effective should they be combined accordingly.”

Frances Fitzgerald, Member of the European Parliament (EPP, Ireland), welcomed the findings in the report. She openly called for “girl proofing” and all of the EU Institutions to do so, to ensure all the progress mapped in the report does not go to waste. To be able to respond to possible setbacks on gender equality, might it be due to the COVID-19 crisis or else,

“girl proofing should safeguard funds for girls and young women, and consequently uphold girls’ rights, their safety, their economic empowerment, their political participation and voice to ensure we will advance in this new era for girls.”

Serap Altinisik, Head of the Plan International EU Office, closed by reiterating the need to safeguard the progress that has been made so far. True gender equality and the journey to its realisation, regardless of the type of crisis we are facing, must advance, that’s the only way forward.

In this New Era for Girls, it’s up to all of us, in all our different capacities at EU level, to ensure girls all over the world can have a fulfilled life and become the empowered women they want to be.

To celebrate the 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action, the multigenerational campaign “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future” is now bringing people of all ages and genders to tackle the unfinished business of empowering girls and women.   At the heart of this campaign are adolescent girls and young women which are mobilizing and making their voices heard, lifting up those who have been silenced, stigmatized and shamed far too long and driving transformative change to achieve gender equality while leaving no one behind. 

Watch the debate: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4