Why is Plan focusing on girls?

All children are important, they have the same rights and deserve the same opportunities, however research and field experience show that a specific focus on girls is relevant for the following reasons:

Gender discrimination is linked with child poverty

Plan recognises that gender-based discrimination is an underlying cause of child poverty. In order to address the structural causes and consequences of child poverty, we must tackle gender inequalities head on. Therefore, gender analysis must be at the core of our analysis of child poverty.

Girls face double discrimination—with social and economic costs for everyone

Plan’s commitment to fight social exclusion, promote social justice and to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child is based upon an analysis that child rights are closely linked with gender discrimination.

While girls and boys have the same rights, they face different obstacles in accessing these rights as a result of gender inequality.

In many parts of the world, girls do not enjoy the same opportunities as boys. This is because they face double discrimination of being female and young, and in many societies remain at the bottom of the social and economic ladder.

Focusing on girls benefits everyone

When the lives of girls improve, everyone benefits, including boys. By ensuring that a girl has equal access to education, employment and adequate healthcare, the benefits will be passed on to her children (both boys and girls), community and her country.

By highlighting the importance of girls’ education Plan is in a unique position to influence social and economic results that will benefit several generations within a family.

For example, educated girls have better opportunities to earn higher wages and to participate in community life and decision-making. They tend to marry later, and have fewer, healthier children who are more likely to go school themselves.

What are the hard facts concerning girls in developing countries?

  • 62 million girls across the world are out of school.
  • Globally, nearly 1 in 5 girls of lower secondary school age is out of school.
  • Girls’ primary school completion rates are below 50% in most poor countries.
  • More girls have been ‘discriminated to death’, than the total number of deaths in all wars and genocides of the 20th century.
  • Every year, 15 million girls are forced or coerced into marriage.
  • Every 3 seconds, another girl is forced or coerced to marry.
  • One in every 3 girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18.
  • One in 9 marries before they reach the age of 15.
  • 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 have experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence.
  • An estimated 170 million girls are believed to be ‘missing’, or killed due to sex selective abortion or neglect.
  • The leading cause of death for young women aged 15-19 in developing countries is pregnancy.
  • An extra year of secondary school can increase a girl’s potential income by 15 to 25%.
  • Each extra year of a mother’s schooling cuts infant mortality by between 5 and 10%.

Why do girls need their own international day?

International commemorative days provide an opportunity to raise awareness, garner international attention and focus to an issue, address taboos, reach mass media and inspire action. They are also important as focal points for mobilisation, bringing together activists, academics, researchers, politicians, business leaders, and community organisations towards a common cause.

Girls have been explicitly mentioned in annual themes just 3 times for International Women’s Day in the past 100 years; and they have never been mentioned in International Youth Day. Even where girls are explicitly mentioned in the themes, the challenges faced by women and girls are very different, as are their needs, which have not been adequately addressed.

Girls face a series of unique and urgent challenges that require specific attention, including:

  • child marriage
  • adolescent child birth
  • violence in school

Research has shown that addressing the specific needs and rights of girls, is key to addressing global poverty. As a country’s primary enrolment rate for girls increases, for example, so too does its gross domestic product per capita.

An International Day of the Girl is a powerful way to highlight the particular needs and rights of girls, and to advocate for greater action and investment to enable girls to reach their full potential.

What does Plan have to do with the Day of the Girl?

The Canadian government, which sponsored the proposal at the United Nations, became involved after Plan brought a delegation of girls and young women to the UN's Commission on the Status of Women in New York in 2011.

The call for the Day of the Girl has come directly from our grassroots work with girls and securing UN-endorsed day has been one of the objectives of the Because I am a Girl campaign.

How do you know how many girls’ lives the campaign will impact?

The Because I am a Girl campaign aims to reach 4 million girls directly, improving their lives with access to school, skills, livelihoods and protection. We will also achieve these improvements through improved family and community support and access to services for girls.

This target comes from looking at the total number of girls sponsored through Plan around the world, and taking into account that for every sponsored girl we work with we reach in addition on average a further 4 more girls.

On top of this, we aim to reach 40 million girls and boys indirectly in terms of positive improvements through our gender programmes. This target comes from calculations made when analysing the reach of our ongoing, new and future programmes that meet certain criteria linked to their impact on girls and the way in which they address issues of gender inequality in communities.

Finally, we aim to reach 400 million girls through policy change. This means helping to bring about quantifiable improvements in policy makers, service providers and government support for gender equality and girls rights. This target comes from considering the total number of potential girls impacted from policy change across the countries where we work, and in particular where we strategically focus our advocacy efforts and resources.

What about men and boys?

Focusing on girls involves working with men and boys and the dividends will be enjoyed by all children and the communities.

Yes, there is evidence of boys being disadvantaged and experiencing gender discrimination—and Plan is taking this into consideration in its programmes, developing appropriate responses. Indeed, girls and boys can both face gender–discrimination, but girls have to face a wider range of social and cultural prejudices that deny their rights.

In general, women and girls have fewer opportunities, lower status, less power, and experience more severe kinds of discrimination in their lives.

Raising the issue of girls’ rights simultaneously increases the importance of working with men and boys on gender inequality and discrimination—and the necessity for relevant programming in this area.

What do you mean by girls? What do you mean by adolescence?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as anyone under the age of 18. A young person is defined as someone between the age of 10 and 24. An adolescent is between 10 and 19, divided into ‘early adolescence’ (10–14 years) and ‘late adolescence’ between 15 and 19.

For the purposes of the Because I am a Girl campaign, a girl is anyone up to the age of 18 and a young woman up to 25.

Why are you focusing on 9 years of education?

UNESCO's general view is that the minimum duration of basic education should be at least 9 years.

Entry into lower secondary education marks an important transition in the learning experience of a child. Its curriculum goes beyond the provision of basic literacy and numeracy skills to delivering-depth subject matter knowledge and to impart relevant skills and knowledge as the foundation for further schooling or for immediate entry into the labour force. Thus, these benefits are key to the further development of both individuals and societies.

What do you mean by gender equity?

There is an important distinction between gender equity and gender equality. Gender equity is the process of being fair to women and men, girls and boys. To ensure fairness, measures must be available to compensate for historical and social disadvantages that prevent women and men, girls and boys, from otherwise operating on a level playing field.

A gender equity approach ensures that women and girls have fair access to the benefits and resources of development, through measures such as equitable treatment before the law, equitable access to social services, and equal pay for work of equal value.

Gender equity leads to gender equality.

What do you mean by gender equality?

Gender equality means that women and men, girls and boys enjoy the same status in society. It does not mean that men and women are the same, but rather that their similarities and differences are recognised and equally valued.

It used to be thought that gender equality could be achieved by giving women and men the same opportunities, and this would bring similar results. However, the same treatment does not necessarily lead to equal results.

For example, free primary education has not resulted in the achievement of equal completion or retention rates for boys and girls. The standard approach to achieving universal education has fallen short because it assumed that generic efforts to enrol more children would benefit all children equally. This approach did not address the specific barriers faced by girls in accessing education.

Gender equality recognizes that men and women, boys and girls have different needs and priorities, face different constraints, and are impacted by development in different ways.

Gender equality can be measured in terms of equality of results.

What do you mean by gender bias?

As we grow up we accept more and more the messages we receive from our family, our teachers and our wider communities about how we should behave. One stereotype is that girls should play with dolls and therefore be more emotional and caring; while boys should play with soldiers and be courageous and physically strong.

Because these roles for girls and boys are so strongly and consistently reinforced people believe they are biological, fundamentally part of being male or female, rather than being ‘socially constructed’ or brought about by social and cultural conditions. Children who do not live up to these gender stereotypes can be treated very harshly by their peers, their communities, and even their families.

Just the threat of such treatment, which can include teasing or physical bullying can create enough fear to ensure that children conform to gender stereotypes, even when they don’t want to.

When these roles and ways of behaving are handed down from one generation to the next we trap children in what they ought to do and feel according to their sex. We prevent boys and girls from being who they really want to be and from making the decisions they would like to make about their lives.

Gender stereotypes create a perception that women and girls are inferior and therefore subservient to men and boys. This power imbalance enables and legitimises violence and other forms of discrimination against girls and women. In other words, they create a ‘gender bias’ which results in boys and men being elevated above girls and women in terms of the way they are treated in society (their rights) and in terms of their access to and possession of resources.

Girls are at a double disadvantage, because they are young they are ignored or exploited, and because they are female they are considered unimportant. These attitudes towards girls, present in all societies to different degrees, will follow them throughout their lives.

Why did you prioritise gender-based violence and child marriage as barriers to adolescent girls' education?

Plan believes that gender-based violence and child marriage are the highest priority issues in terms of increasing girls’ access to quality education. This is supported by a strong evidence base provided by our own research through the State of the World’s Girls reports.

In addition, analyses conducted across our programme countries routinely identify these issues as priorities in almost all contexts.

In addition to our own internal reporting, we have also drawn on research and studies by UNESCO and other major partners in child development.

We have also selected these issues as we believe we have the programme experience and expertise, which adds to our conviction that we can realistically achieve impact through the lifecycle of the Because I am a Girl campaign.

Isn't child marriage just a cultural issue?

Many of the discriminatory practices and attitudes towards girls due to their age and gender are in fact linked to deeply-held cultural beliefs and traditions. However, early marriage - as with all harmful religious, cultural and social practices - is a human rights issue first and foremost and needs to be treated as such.

Every year, 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married. This equates to 1 every 3 seconds. Many of these marriages are considered forced because in most contexts, girls rarely give their free and full consent.

Since in many cultural contexts early marriage of girls is accepted as a norm, girls may appear to give consent as a duty or in order to respect and obey the wishes of their families. However, when a bride is under the age of 18, it is hard to demonstrate that consent is ‘free and full’ and rarely is early marriage in the best interest of the girl.

Plan has worked for a long time in partnership with the communities and engages directly with individuals and groups who are themselves working to halt the practice of girls pressurised to marry early, or participate against their will in any other harmful practices. Finally, many child marriages take place unlawfully, as the majority of countries we work in have legislation in place forbidding marriage of persons under the age of 18.

Girl facts

open quotes An increase of only 1% in girls secondary education attendance, adds 0.3% to a country's GDP.close quotes

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