Five million. That's how many girls Plan International has reached directly through the global Because I am a Girl movement since it was launched in 2012. Of course this number is huge, and it is something of which we are justifiably proud, but it's just a fraction of our ambition. We want to see a world in which every girl realises her rights; a world in which girls are valued equally; a world in which power relations are transformed so girls everywhere can learn, lead, decide and thrive. This is a global ambition, and throughout the coming year we will continue our work with the European institutions to ensure our message is heard.
Following the milestone agreements reached in 2015, we must now take the first steps towards realising the promises we made to people and planet. We were therefore delighted to start the new year with a guest article for Girls' Voices from EU Development Commissioner Mimica. The Commissioner has made no secret of his personal commitment to advancing girls' rights and gender equality through the EU's development cooperation.
In his article, he reiterated his desire to help create "a world where the rights of girls and women are claimed, valued and respected by all". "We cannot achieve sustainable development by 2030 if half of the world’s population is left behind," he concluded. I encourage you to read his article to find out how he intends to ensure the EU makes a positive and lasting difference to girls' lives, including through the new Gender Action Plan (GAP).
Perhaps one of the most brutal examples of why we must focus on promoting and protecting girls' rights is the practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). FGM/C is a gross violation of a girl's rights with no justification whatsoever. Yet it continues to be performed on millions of girls every year. We cannot simply stand back and allow this to go on.
Earlier this month (6 February) we celebrated the International Day for Zero Tolerance of FGM, shortly after we'd welcomed Madina Bocoum Daff, Plan International Mali's Coordinator in the fight against FGM/C, to Brussels. The secrecy which surrounds FGM/C only fuels the practice. Madina is determined to break the silence, and she is a woman with a powerful story to tell. Having undergone one of the most severe forms of FGM/C herself, she knows all too well the importance of what she is fighting for.
The EU has committed itself to helping eliminate the practice within a generation, including through its Action Plans on Human Rights and Democracy and Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment, and we will continue to share the voices and experiences of women like Madina - and the girls she is fighting to protect - to push for EU leadership on this issue.
The turn of the year also marked the start of the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the EU. They may only have six months at the helm, but if spent wisely the Dutch can leave a lasting legacy when it comes to the EU's 15-year contribution to ending extreme poverty through Agenda 2030. Where should they start? By showing leadership on the development of a comprehensive, integrated implementation strategy, raising policy coherence up the political agenda and developing robust, independent monitoring and accountability mechanisms. Monique van 't Hek, National Director of Plan Netherlands, sets out her expectations of the Dutch Presidency in our second Girls' Voices article.
2016 is already well underway and we've hit the ground running - there is no time to waste when it comes to realising our ambitions for girls the world over.