The big picture

Girls and gender equality

Equality between men and women has been always been a key principle in the work of the United Nations, and it means that men and women share equally in rights, resources and opportunities.  Gender equality is also important for girls, who have the same right as boys to education, health care, participation and all other opportunities.

The rights of girls and women are outlined in international conventions and declarations (see next page), but these legal instruments do not always translate into real changes in the lives of girls. There has been much progress made on gender equality, but girls still face a number of unique challenges:

• Abuse, exploitation and violence continue to affect millions of girls.
• Girls are less likely than boys to go to school
• Young girls are more affected by maternal mortality, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria (MDGs 5 and 6, respectively). 
• Gender inequality and discrimination is at the root of harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), child marriage, and adolescent pregnancy.
• Both boys and girls face the negative impacts of war, but girls are more likely to be the targets of rape and forced prostitution and to have limited access to basic rights and services, such as health and education in times of conflict.

Addressing gender inequality and discrimination against girls includes advocating with governments to enforce international human rights standards in their own countries. However, it is also important to change existing stereotypes and behaviours among all members of society who do not fully recognize the rights of girls and women.