At the turn of the year, the Dutch took over the Presidency of the EU Council. Over the course of the coming six months, they will be responsible for driving forward the EU agenda in a number of important areas including, notably, the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the new EU Gender Action Plan 2016-2020.
The Dutch government must grasp this opportunity and demonstrate real leadership, particularly when it comes to addressing the particular rights and needs of adolescent girls in EU development cooperation and humanitarian action.
The smartest investment
As a global organisation, Plan International is committed to helping create a world that values girls, promotes their rights and ends injustice and discrimination against them. A world that enables all girls everywhere to learn, lead, decide and thrive. Plan Netherlands is firmly behind this vision, and we are determined to push EU governments to take all necessary steps to achieve this, including its policies and funding.
On a daily basis, and in a multitude of ways, girls are denied the opportunity to develop their full potential.
Why focus on girls? All over the world, adolescent girls face particular discrimination. On a daily basis, and in a multitude of ways, they are denied the opportunity to develop their full potential.
They face violence and intimidation, are kept out of school, are married as children and become mothers far too young; they are subjected to deep-rooted harmful social norms, attitudes and traditions which perpetuate patriarchy; they are silenced and unable to speak up in defence of their rights, preventing them from participating fully in their own or their communities’ development. In short, they are, in many parts of the world, valued less than boys.
This engrained inequality and discrimination against girls is something we must fight with all our might, not only because is it the right thing to do, but because it is also the smart thing to do. It is increasingly clear that when given the opportunity, girls can, and do, make a difference when it comes to driving forward sustainable, inclusive development which benefits individuals, families, communities and entire countries.
For example, there is evidence that every additional year of primary school increases girls' eventual wages by 10-20%. And when they are educated, they are more able and likely to make their own decisions about the issues which affect their own lives – from if, when and who they marry to their chosen career. The power and potential of girls is vast, and we urge the Dutch Government to use its six-month presidency to harness this and to take specific actions to further girls’ rights. Ultimately, investing in girls is investing in a better future for everybody.
Girls and Agenda 2030: From words to actions
Agenda 2030 has provided us with the opportunity to change the world for girls. But it will count for little without concrete action and dedicated funding to realise its ambition.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been widely lauded as a historic achievement in the ongoing efforts to reduce poverty, tackle inequality and protect the planet. Agenda 2030 has provided us with the opportunity to change the world for girls. But it will count for little without concrete action and dedicated funding to realise its ambition.
Here, the Dutch Government can take a leading role in advocating for the EU and its Member States to show political leadership and courage in developing a comprehensive, integrated implementation strategy covering all the Goals and targets, both at home and in terms of support for partner countries’ implementation. Importantly, all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals are relevant to girls – not only Goal 5, which is specifically dedicated to gender equality.
It is also critical that the Dutch Presidency raise policy coherence for sustainable development up the political agenda. There’s simply no point in giving with one hand and taking back with the other through a lack of consistency of internal or external policies.
Lastly, the Presidency should take the lead in ensuring that the EU has developed appropriate, robust and independent monitoring and accountability mechanisms in areas where they are currently inadequate, or do not exist, with the participation of civil society. Not only will these contribute to ensuring policy coherence for sustainable development, but they will also help to ensure that no girl is left behind.
The EU Gender Action Plan
It is critical that the GAP and the SDGs complement each other, and this synergy must be set in motion right from the outset.
The Dutch Presidency not only marks the start of the SDGs, but also of the renewed EU Gender Action Plan (GAP), which will guide the work of the whole of the EU in this area until the end of the decade. It is critical that the GAP and the SDGs complement each other, and this synergy must be set in motion right from the outset.
One important way to do so is by pushing for a rights-based approach which focuses on the root causes of gender-inequality. The success of the GAP depends on tackling discrimination against women and girls, and by taking this approach the Dutch Presidency can help ensure the GAP makes a significant contribution to Agenda 2030’s underlying principle of “leave no one behind”.
Walking the talk: ensuring adequate, dedicated funding
Finally, all these policies must be backed up by adequate, dedicated funding for programmes which aim to further realise girls’ rights and gender equality. In the coming months, under the Dutch Presidency, discussion will begin on the mid-term review of the EU’s budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).
The Mid-Term Review is just the moment to evaluate progress for girls thus far, to ensure that no monies are diverted away from gender equality-related programmes and that, on the contrary, a very real effort is made to boost such funding, including through mainstreaming gender in all focus areas.
We have 15 years to change the world – for girls, for everyone.
Agenda 2030 has provided all of us with a clear target: we have 15 years to change the world – for girls, for everyone. The Dutch Presidency may only have six months at the helm, but they must take the initiative and opportunity to maximise that time. For girls all over the world, there is no time to waste.