International Day Of The Girl-Child: Empowering Adolescent Girls And Ending The Cycle Of Violence
BY Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
On this International Day of the Girl Child let us commit to creating a world where girls can live free of violence and achieve their full potential.
Violence against girls, in all its forms, is a grave human rights violation rooted in gender inequality. Up to one-third of adolescent girls report their first sexual experience as being forced. At least 133 million girls and women have experienced female genital mutilation.
When an adolescent girl experiences violence, often perpetrated by those closest to her, she has limited choices and opportunities. Without redress, the effects of such violence will last throughout her lifetime and may extend to future generations.
Every day, 39,000 girls are married before they turn 18 and, if current trends continue, there will be 140 million child brides by 2020. Girls married young are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence and sexual abuse than those who marry later. They suffer complications during pregnancy and childbirth, with these complications being a leading cause of death in young women aged 15-19. This is a catastrophic loss of human potential.
Eradicating violence against the girl child is a critical area of concern of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a landmark international agreement reached almost 20 years ago. The promise made to girls at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing must be delivered. Protecting girls from all forms of violence and promoting girls’ empowerment must be at the heart of the global development agenda.
It is in our hands to make this possible, through provision of adequate services and comprehensive prevention efforts. By providing girls and women with access to education, by ensuring their sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as engaging men and boys in the promotion of gender equality, we can protect and empower girls. By improving justice mechanisms and supportive services, we can crush impunity and mitigate the impact of violence on survivors.
Girls themselves are part of the solution. They are a powerhouse of talent, creativity and potential. This year, UN Women is rolling out a global youth-led programme, “Voices against Violence,” to prevent violence against girls and young women. In partnership with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and using non-formal education as a tool, the programme will reach some 800,000 young people aged 5 to 25, in 12 countries. In many more countries, we are partnering with young people to challenge gender stereotypes and norms that perpetuate violence.
With Together for Girls, a unique public-private partnership, UN Women is supporting data collection and country-driven efforts to address sexual violence against children, especially girls. In the Asia-Pacific region, a joint programme — “Partners for Prevention” — supported by UN Women, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Volunteers, is focusing on prevention of violence against women and girls through research, capacity development and communications for social change. As part of the Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting with UNICEF and UNFPA, UN Women is also working to address harmful traditional practices that impact millions of girls worldwide.
The International Day of the Girl Child is an opportunity to step up collective action to break the cycle of violence against girls and women. Empowering girls today makes for a safer, healthier, more prosperous and sustainable tomorrow.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the United Nations Women Executive Director. This article is her piece on this year’s International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October 2014.