One year after the historic adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, we welcome the new United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, as the world’s most prominent diplomat who must now deliver equality for girls.
He follows in the footsteps of Ban Ki-moon, a dedicated gender champion, who accelerated progress on girls’ and women’s rights through support of numerous campaigns and initiatives - including the launch of Every Woman Every Child, and its subsequent Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health.
Mr Guterres inherits the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its promises to achieve gender equality by 2030. It also specifically notes the importance of the empowerment of girls.
He must put rhetoric into action and ensure the transformation of promises into results for girls
The public nature of this round of elections brought with it a global eye on the Secretary-General selection process, as well as the candidates’ commitments to issues of significance to the international community. Nearly all of the candidates’ vision statements* noted the importance of achieving gender equality, and Mr Guterres remarked in his acceptance speech that “the protection and empowerment of women and girls will continue to be a priority commitment”.
While this is a small comfort to many, including those who echoed resounding public calls for a feminist Secretary-General to avoid continuing the “business as usual” model of international diplomacy, Mr Guterres has a hard road ahead of him to deliver on the promises made by both himself, and those put into place by his predecessors.
Invest in girls' rights
Particularly crucial to gender equality and development efforts alike is an increased investment and focus on girls’ rights and empowerment. Girls remain the single most marginalised group on the planet and their specific needs and concerns are consistently neglected, rendering their experiences invisible to global policymakers. Tens of millions of girls throughout the world continue to face the double discrimination of being young and female.
Girls remain the single most marginalised group on the planet
Girls face a myriad of obstacles in accessing an inclusive, quality education, as is their right. They are similarly prevented from participating actively and equally in public life, even regarding decisions that affect them directly. They face barriers to making decisions related to their own bodies, including decisions on sexual and reproductive health, often as a result of pervasive and entrenched gender norms. And they are both at increased risk of violence, as a result of their age and gender, and yet are often denied their right to justice.
As Secretary-General, Mr Guterres has an exceptional opportunity to lead the way on girls’ rights and empowerment, an imperative that has vast implications for both the Sustainable Development Goals and gender equality efforts globally.
Listen to girls
As critical agents of change, girls’ contributions to sustainable development, environmental sustainability, and sustainable peace and security can create significant positive impacts across multiple sectors, as seen in indicators on public health, economic growth, and education. They are more than solely the recipients of development, and must be recognised and addressed as active stakeholders and participants in global development initiatives.
It is clear that the ambitious promises made in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda can only be reached with the inclusion and participation of girls at every stage. Girls must be actively included in decision-making processes, implementation of policy and programming, and in accountability mechanisms. Likewise, only through addressing girls’ rights, needs, and experiences directly will true gender equality be achieved.
Mr Guterres must reaffirm and recommit the UN and its many agencies to the realisation of girls’ human rights and empowerment. He must put rhetoric into action and ensure the transformation of promises into results for girls around the world.
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