Good morning — and thank you all for joining us today.
And a special thanks to our partners at DFID for co-hosting this important event — and for being such generous supporters of UNICEF’s research on gender, adolescence and social protection.
In thinking about the power of social protection to improve the lives of women and girls, I recalled two recent visits.
First — to Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
A country being torn apart by conflict. Where 11.3 million children need urgent humanitarian assistance. Where social services and the economy are barely functional. Where hospitals and schools have been damaged or destroyed. Where parents cannot afford to send their children to school — let alone provide adequate food and water.
Thanks to the World Bank and the generosity of donors, UNICEF is delivering cash transfers to 1.5 million families — about nine million people.
One of these people is Umm Mohammed, a mother of four. Her family could barely afford one meal a day, and she had to pull her children out of school.
Thanks to the cash transfer, she was able to start her own business — and send her children back to school. In the words of her son Mohammed: “I’m so proud of my mother who struggled a lot and never gave up on us.”
And in Bangladesh last month, I met girls benefitting from the Alternative Learning Programme there. It’s an informal apprenticeship program for adolescents that are not in school, to help them develop job relevant skills.
It’s also challenging gender stereotypes — placing girls in vocations like graphic design to mobile-phone servicing.
These examples show that, even in the most dire circumstances — even among the most vulnerable populations — we can change the lives of girls and women.
We can — and we must. Because girls and young women face a range of barriers throughout their lives.
Schools that lack proper facilities to manage their periods. A denial of education because of their gender. Poverty and disadvantage, which puts the cost of education out of reach for many families. A greater risk of getting married — and having children at a young age — instead of pursuing an education and a job.
When these girls become women, they face additional barriers.
Outmoded attitudes that keep them from certain careers — especially in the STEM field: science, technology, engineering and math. The cost of child care — and a lack of parental leave programmes. And workplaces that don’t offer breastfeeding breaks or facilities.
Newly released data paints a bleak picture.
- Worldwide, girls ages 10-14 are spending nearly twice as many hours as boys on housework — and in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, the disparity is even wider.
- Globally, less than half of girls aged 15-19 are in school.
- And young women aged 15-29 are three times more likely than young men to be out-of-school or unemployed.
No country can afford to short-change half of its population. Half of its learners. Half of its potential workforce. Half of its future.
As leaders, as policy makers and as advocates, our duty is to go where the evidence takes us.
We must learn from programmes that work… and scale them up to reach more girls and women, to close these persistent gender gaps in the services they access…in the education they receive…and in the careers that they build.
For example, UNICEF worked with the Government of Rwanda to strengthen “Umurenge” — the country’s flagship social protection programme — and link it to the challenges girls and women are facing. This includes promoting child care and protection services in the workplace, and developing jobs for women with flexible working hours.
We’re also working with the government of Bihar in India to develop a universal cash transfer programme for girls, from birth to the age of 21. Grants are provided at every stage of a girl’s life — when her birth is registered, when she receives her immunizations, when she enrolls and stays in school, and when she refrains from early marriage.
But we must do more. Over the course of this week, UNICEF urges governments to look at five specific areas where more work is needed to scale-up social protections for women and girls.
First — birth registration, which unlocks social benefits for girls and women throughout their lives. We urge countries to enact stronger legislation to ensure that each and every child — each and every girl — is registered at birth. No matter where she lives.
Second — education grants and scholarships, to help level the playing field for girls from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Every country depends on the economic firepower of its young people — boys and girls. They can follow the lead of countries like Malawi, which is waiving tuition fees for the most vulnerable girls, including at the secondary level. And working with UNICEF, the country established the National Girls Trust fund, providing scholarships to 14,000 students.
Third — enhancing girls’ economic participation through skills training. The Alternative Learning Programme in Bangladesh I mentioned is a good model to follow and scale-up.
Fourth — strengthening data and research, to help us better design and target social protection programmes in an informed, evidence-based way. You’ll hear more about this in the next session.
And fifth — we call on our partners in the public and private sectors to re-design the workplace of the future, to help parents support their children’s development. This includes paid parental leave…breastfeeding breaks and rooms in the workplace…access to affordable, quality child care…and subsidies to help disadvantaged families.
This year’s CSW theme challenges us all to consider new ways to make our social protection work more responsive to the specific needs of girls and women around the world.
Let’s meet that challenge. Let’s support the lives, and the futures, of women and girls everywhere. And let’s do it together. Thank you.