Good morning — and welcome, everyone, to UNICEF House.
In particular, the girls and young women who have joined us. We cannot have these important conversations about social protection without you.
Social protection programmes are an effective tool in our battle against child poverty. They level the playing field by helping families buy food. Send their children to school. And access medicine and health care.
One study of six African countries found that every dollar transferred to a household through a cash transfer generated up to $2.50 in local economic benefits.
But properly designed and implemented, these kinds of programmes can also help millions of women and girls overcome barriers to the education, skills-development, and economic empowerment they need.
Barriers like schools that lack separate bathrooms — or facilities for girls to manage menstruation.
Cultural barriers that keep girls at home, doing chores, while their brothers go to school.
Or economic barriers like the costs of child care for working parents. Or the lack of parental leave programmes…breastfeeding breaks for working mothers…and subsidies to help disadvantaged families make ends meet.
Our job this week is to discuss and share ideas on how we can scale-up the social protections that can help girls and women overcome these barriers. And to do so throughout their lifetimes.
Governments must ask themselves: When a girl is first born, will her family have access to the nutrition, stimulation and protection her brain needs to develop fully? Does she live in a jurisdiction that offers these programmes? Or is the cost too high?
When that girl reaches school age, will her family be able to afford to send her to school — and keep her there? Or will they keep her home to do chores, while her brothers learn?
If she’s lucky enough to go to school, will she have access to separate toilet facilities? And the information and facilities she needs to manage her menstrual cycle?
After her formal education, will she have access to skills-training — including digital skills? Or science, technology, engineering and math-based skills? Or will she be left out of these opportunities because of her gender?
When she goes to work, will she have access to affordable child care or parental leave when she becomes a mother? Or will she be forced to limit her career and earning potential to care for her family?
Social protection programmes can help girls at every stage of their lives.
And around the world, governments are leading the way.
For example, UNICEF worked with the government of Bihar in India to develop a universal cash transfer programme for girls, from birth to the age of 21. No matter her family’s caste, income or religion.
Grants are provided at every stage of her life — when her birth is registered, when she receives her immunizations, when she enrols and stays in school, and when she refrains from early marriage.
The programme also provides cash transfers for sanitary pads, so girls can safely manage their periods.
Just one example of how governments can make a difference.
But cash transfers alone are insufficient. 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 has established the National Girls Trust fund, providing scholarships to 14,000 students.
Third — enhancing girls’ economic participation through skills training.
When I was in Bangladesh two weeks ago, I met young women benefitting from the Alternative Learning Programme, implemented by BRAC with UNICEF support.
It’s an informal apprenticeship program for adolescents who are not in school to help them develop job-relevant skills. It’s also challenging gender stereotypes by placing girls in vocations like graphic design and mobile-phone servicing. And it provides stipends to help poor adolescents take part in the program. These are exactly the kind of programmes we must scale-up through our Generation Unlimited partnership with the public and private sectors.
Fourth — menstrual hygiene management in schools. Girls are more likely to attend school, and stay there, if the right facilities are in place to manage their periods.
We urge governments to follow the lead of countries like Tanzania, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and many others to construct schools that are girl-friendly and — importantly — accessible to girls with disabilities.
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.
Our social protection efforts can change the lives of girls and women.
That’s what this year’s CSW theme challenges us all to do — to consider new ways to make our social protection efforts more responsive to their needs, throughout their lives.
With your help — and your ideas — we can ensure that social protection programmes lift up these girls, and give them the power they need and deserve to shape their own futures. Thank you.