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Remembering the Girl Child

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On December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognise the rights of the girl-child and the unique challenges that girls face around the world. The theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child, which was celebrated last week is “EmPower Girls: Emergency Response and Resilience Planning”

The International Day of the Girl Child focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.

According to a United Nations International Children’s Educational Fund, UNICEF, document, adolescent girls have the right to a safe, educated, and healthy life, not only during these critical formative years, but also as they mature into women. If effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world – both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders. An investment in realising the power of adolescent girls upholds their rights today and promises a more equitable and prosperous future, one in which half of humanity is an equal partner in solving the problems of climate change, political conflict, economic growth, disease prevention and global sustainability.

Over the last 15 years, the report revealed that the global community made significant progress in improving the lives of girls during early childhood. In 2015, girls in the first decade of life are more likely to enroll in primary school, receive key vaccinations and are less likely to suffer from health and nutrition problems than were previous generations. However, there has been insufficient investment in addressing the challenges girls face when they enter the second decade of their lives. This includes obtaining quality secondary and higher education, avoiding child marriage, receiving information and services related to puberty and reproductive health, and protecting themselves against unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and gender-based violence.

As the global community launches the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for implementation over the next 15 years, it is a good time to recognise the achievements made in supporting young girls while, at the same time, aspiring to support the current and upcoming generations of adolescent girls, to truly fulfill their potential as key actors in achieving a sustainable and equitable world.

Irina Bokova, the Director General of UNESCO, in her message for this year’s celebration, echoes the general opinion that it is coming at turbulent times, with the world facing the rising challenges of forced displacement, climate change and violent extremism.

Whether caused by armed conflict or natural disaster, Bokova says believes that humanitarian crises always hurt women and girls the most – they, indeed, account for more than 75 percent of the refugees and displaced persons at risk from war, famine, persecution and natural disaster. They are also vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation during conflicts and in refugee camps.

The theme of this International Day – “EmPOWER girls: emergency response and resilience planning” – according to her message, resonates with UNESCO’s commitment to promote the protection of girls from conflict and violence and to strengthen their resilience, while ensuring their full participation in mediation and negotiation processes.

This is the goal of landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, to increase women’s role in decision-making for conflict prevention and resolution.

Seventeen years later, empowering girls and women is essential to the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda promises to leave no one behind – this must start with girls whose needs are greatest, she said.

Working with member states and partners, UNESCO is leaning towards the Education 2030 Framework for Action, to nurture education as a force to transform socially, economically and politically the lives of girls and adolescents.

“We have launched UNESCO’s Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education, “Better Life, Better Future”, to educate adolescent girls as a catalyst to break cycles of poverty and foster greater social justice. Across the world, the partnership has provided adolescent girls with knowledge, values and skills, creating positive benefits for families and communities, today and tomorrow.

She stated that no society will flourish and no peace agreement will be lasting without empowering girls in peace building and reconstruction. It is time to put this imperative at the heart of all of our efforts in addressing fragility, conflict and violence.

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