International Day of the Girl 2023
"Invest in Girls' Rights: Our Leadership, Our Well-being" - UNICEF and partners call for a $1 billion increase in investments for adolescent girls
The International Day of the Girl (IDG) – observed annually on 11 October – is a global platform to advocate for the full spectrum of girls’ rights. This year, at a time when we are seeing a range of movements and actions to curtail girls’ and women’s rights and roll back progress on gender equality, we see particularly harsh impacts on girls. From maternal health care and parenting support for adolescent mothers, to digital and life skills training; from comprehensive sexuality education to survivor support services and violence prevention programmes; there is an urgent need for increased attention and resourcing for the key areas that enable girls to realize their rights and achieve their full potential.
Responding to girls’ calls for change, the global community must move beyond reaffirming commitments and invest boldly in the action needed to make that change. When we pay attention, we see that, already, many girls are championing solutions and change in their communities. Together with our government and civil society partners, UNICEF envisions a world where girls have space to shape government policy and spending to inform the rules and norms by which businesses should operate, and to direct the priorities for new research and innovations. These examples should not be novelties, but the norm.
A call to action
1. Centre girls in the protection and promotion of rights: All like-minded partners must centre girls’ rights in their work to tackle the pushback against gender equality. Whether it is on maternal health care, parenting support, unpaid care work or access to financial literacy and resources, adolescent girls tend to be sidelined. Whether it is a debate in an international resolution, the crafting of a national policy, the funding of grassroots movements in response to a humanitarian emergency – start with the most marginalized girls at the centre to stop this happening.
2. Recognize, celebrate and support girls' leadership: Investing in girls' leadership includes creating space and platforms for girls to raise their voices at every level of policy-making, directly resourcing girls’ movements and networks, and centering girls’ voices, agency and leadership in all programmes.
3. Introduce and scale up multi-sectoral programmes that support adolescent girls' well-being: To quote many girl leaders, including most recently UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and climate activist Vanessa Nakate, we know that “girls don't live single-issue lives.” We also know that our best chance of scaling up sustainable programming to support girls’ well-being is building programmes around what already exists, and where girls are already finding support. Whether it is a health clinic that provides gender-based violence referrals, a cash transfer programme that includes financial literacy training, an adolescent-friendly maternal health clinic that includes a parenting programme, or a violence-prevention programme that takes place at school, we must introduce and scale-up multi-sectoral programming that address adolescent girls’ needs.
4. Ensure information, services and systems meaningfully change to be adolescent-girl-friendly: This includes tackling the stigma and poor treatment many adolescent girls have highlighted in accessing essential services, such as sexual and reproductive health services; coming to school if pregnant/having given birth; or in managing menstrual health and hygiene.
5. Make structural changes to scale up funding for girls (and not as a one-off): The paucity of funding for the issues affecting adolescent girls is stark. Major international development and humanitarian actors, governments, the private sector and civil society organizations can and must play their parts to make structural changes and policy decisions to fund adolescent girls. It is the right thing to do. But is also a smart investment – an investment in a demographic dividend that will only pay off if we invest in girls today. We are therefore amplifying Vanessa Nakate’s call at Women Deliver for $1 billion in new investments from the international development community for adolescent girls by 2025; a significant increase in public finance commitments by national policymakers, earmarked for girl-centred national policies and programmes in the long-term; and a significant increase in funding for girl-led groups, organizations and networks by 2025.
In almost every country, patriarchy and power dynamics afford boys comparative advantages compared to girls in most domains. These advantages accrue over time. During adolescence, paths diverge considerably. Social and gender norms constrict adolescent girls’ access to public spaces, socialize girls to be docile and obedient (“good girls”), and reinforce perceptions that girls’ appearances, and potential and actual role in care work, is valued more than their studies in school, leadership in business, or voice in policymaking.
This divergent path is fraught with multifaceted challenges and interconnected violations of girls’ rights. As a result of these patriarchal dynamics playing out at every level – from formal policymaking institutions to community norms, family behaviours and individual attitudes – we see stark ways in which girls are left behind across multiple dimensions. For example:
- Nearly 1 in 5 girls are still not completing lower-secondary and nearly 4 in 10 girls are not completing upper-secondary school today. And in certain regions, the numbers are even more dismal. Around 90 per cent of adolescent girls and young women do not use the internet in low-income countries, while their male peers are twice as likely to be online.
- Globally, girls aged 5-14 spend 160 million more hours every day on unpaid care and domestic work than boys of the same age. This unequal distribution in unpaid work intensifies in adolescence with serious implications for girls’ well-being.
- Adolescent girls continue to account for 3 in 4 new HIV infections among adolescents.
- Meeting adolescent girls’ demands for family planning with modern methods has been slow, increasing from 55% to 60% since 2012. This means that 4 in 10 adolescent girls aged 15-19 who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern method, and teenage pregnancy is a leading cause of mortality for adolescent girls.
- Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 100 million girls were at risk of child marriage in the next decade. And now over the next ten years, up to 10 million more girls worldwide will be at risk of marrying as children because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Nearly 1 in 4 married/partnered adolescent girls aged 15-19 have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime.
Investing in girls
Targeted and evidence-based investments in key areas that promote girls’ leadership and well-being are needed to secure their rights and development – in every setting and context. It is imperative to increase funding in key areas, including girls' health, education, violence prevention, and economic empowerment. Such investments represent a critical step to realize girls’ rights under the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Moreover, the international community will not meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their targets without investing in adolescent girls who, when supported, deliver returns and powerful change for girls themselves, their families, communities and societies. Consider the following:
- Education: For every additional year of secondary education a girl receives, her potential income increases by about 10-20%. This translates into greater economic productivity, reduced poverty rates, and improved overall well-being. Education confers compounding protective effects against several harmful outcomes in relation to their health and well-being.
- Health: Every dollar invested in sexual and reproductive health and rights for adolescent girls can yield economic returns of up to $120, leading to improved health outcomes and increased economic opportunities. A Lancet paper highlighted that targeted health and well-being interventions for adolescents can yield up to a tenfold return.
- Harmful practices: Despite the imperative to prevent child marriage, a 2022 review of official development assistance (ODA) reports that only 0.07% of official development assistance in 2020 went to fighting child marriage.
- Targeted resourcing for and with adolescent girls: A 2023 analysis by the Overseas Development Institute concluded that less than 6% of ODA by major bilateral donors is earmarked for gender and adolescents, despite the rights-based imperative and case for urgent action. We know multi-sectoral interventions can deliver the greatest impact, reaching adolescent girls wherever it makes the most sense for them in their context – whether a mobile health clinic, vocational centre, traditional classroom, or youth club. Evidence has indicated that multi-sectoral programming for adolescent girls can offer better value for money, delivering results across multiple outcomes for girls and their families.