Girls’ rights are not often the centre of attention. In fact, more often than not, the discrimination and abuse girls around the world are subjected to goes unnoticed and unpunished. Ignored, just like girls themselves. Young and female, they are among the most disadvantaged people on the planet.
Challenges and opportunities
Denied an education, forced to marry and bear children before they are emotionally or physically ready, subject to harmful traditional, religious and cultural practices, lacking access to healthcare; trapped in a life of poverty, millions of girls are missing out on the chance to fulfil their potential. They are missing out on the chance to learn, to live a life of dignity.
This is unacceptable and unjust. And, frankly, a huge waste. Given the chance, girls can be real agents of change. They can help drive entire communities, and therefore nations, out of poverty. This is not mere fancy; research has proven it to be true. One extra year of secondary schooling, for example, increases a girl’s potential income by as much as 25%, while an increase of only 1% in girls’ secondary education attendance adds 0.3% to a country’s GDP.
European Week of Action for Girls
The European Week of Action for Girls, which takes place from 8-12 October, therefore aims to focus attention on the particular challenges and opportunities that come with being a girl. It will kick off with the launch of a global poll on girls’ rights, which will be available in multiple languages. The poll aims to gather the views of girls themselves on the issues affecting their lives, and will send this message direct to EU policymakers who have the power to make a difference.
The highlight of the Week of Action is the first ever International Day of the Girl Child, which will be celebrated in Brussels and in national capitals around the world on 11 October. This is a chance to think about how far we have come in terms of gender equality, and remind ourselves how far we still have to go.
Girls’ face multiple challenges in accessing their rights, and the EU, as a significant global player, must confront these challenges head on. All levels of the EU – Commission, Parliament, Council and External Action Service – have a role to play in identifying what are the barriers holding girls back, and work out what needs to be done to overcome them.
The EU needs to work with governments in developing countries to put in place the necessary policies and legislation to protect and promote girls’ rights. Whether it’s in education, health, agriculture, or emergencies, girls’ rights and gender equality cut across every element of EU external action. EU development cooperation still needs to prove it has what Commissioner Piebalgs has referred to as “the female factor”.
Girls in the EU budget
If this is to happen, girls’ rights and gender equality must be adequately protected in the EU’s long term budget, which sets the bloc’s priorities and spending limits until the end of the decade, including in the field of development cooperation. The European Parliament has, time and again, demonstrated that it stands united behind the promotion of girls’ rights and gender equality.
It rightly considers itself a bastion of freedom but, with EU member states pushing hard for cuts across all headings of the EU budget, including development assistance, there will be tough negotiations ahead and we are concerned that girls will once again miss out.
The Parliament has proven itself a strong and determined advocate for girls. Indeed, the 2012 European Week of Action for Girls is organised by Plan EU Office under the official patronage of the President of the European Parliament, who has given his backing to the cause. The Parliament must stand firm in this quest, and EU member states must respect its voice.
By Louise Hagendijk, Communications and media officer