Imagine a six year old girl. Perhaps the girl you are picturing lives in rural Tanzania. Maybe she is in urban Delhi, or a refugee camp in eastern Africa. Perhaps she lives in Germany.
Two years ago, leaders from 193 countries signed up to a promise. That by the time this girl hit 20, she’d be living in a world free from extreme poverty, inequality, and the problems of climate change.
But today, her future is strewn with a multitude of challenges and barriers to success. Why? Because she is a girl.
Research on children’s perception of how smart men and women are shows the depth of the problem.* At age five, both boys and girls equally think their own gender is ‘brilliant’. But just one year later, girls believe they are markedly less talented than boys.
Aged just six years old, our girl believes she is a second class citizen.
Lessons from history
We know that securing rights and justice for women and girls transforms lives, societies and nations. The evidence is overwhelming.
Securing rights and justice for women and girls transforms lives, societies and nations.
Despite this, there is the emergence of a worrying trend riding a wave of populism. From the Mexico City Policy, to the shift away from individual rights within the highly conservative UN Human Rights Council resolution on Protection of the Family: progress for girls’ and women's rights is rolling back.
History has an important lesson when it comes to advancing technology. Every revolution since the advent of steam power has left behind those at the bottom of the pile. Today, this is likely to mean the continued discrimination of young women and girls.
Step outside your comfort zone
I believe we are standing with two roads ahead of us. The first road is the one we walk today, and it leads to broken promises. Einstein said that doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
So it follows that we must step outside our comfort zones and do something significantly different, at both individual and organisational levels.
Thus, the second road we can take is one that embraces doing things differently.
Plan International has done something different. We have taken an 80-year-old child rights organisation and turned it into a girls’ rights organisation. We are dedicated to ensuring that girls may learn, lead, decide and thrive.
The revolution begins with girls
There are actions that we all must now take.
Firstly, we need to stop the rollback on progress already made for girls’ and women’s rights. We need an abundance of courage. We must take heart from our successes, and build on them. Like the outlawing of child marriage in Malawi last month, supported by Plan International but driven through Parliament by the country’s youth.
The key to fulfilling the Global Goals is tackling the issue that runs through each one: gender equality.
But we must also shine a light on the places where we’re failing. For example: on gender-based violence. The statistics* have not changed for thirty years. One in three women in the world will experience physical or sexual violence. We must challenge norms to enact a social transformation. A revolution.
Secondly, we must make technological advancement work to improve gender equality. In some areas this is already happening. Building on our Safer Cities programmes in Delhi, Hanoi and Cario, girls are using technology to map their cities: places they feel unsafe, and areas that could be improved. This information is fed back to police and councils to create safer spaces for all. What else can we achieve through emerging technology?
Lastly, let’s stop talking about empowering girls. It’s such a passive term. They just need a level playing field to begin with. To achieve this, we must give them a platform, and invest time and resources in improving their economic and social outlook.
We want safer cities for women and girls but only 5 per cent of the world’s mayors are women. If we look at the media, the economy - all the critical spaces where power lies, very few women are in control. How can we expect these spaces to truly take into account girls’ and young women’s priorities when so few women are at the decision making table?
Girls are key to fulfilling the Global Goals
The key to fulfilling the Global Goals is tackling the issue that runs through each one: gender equality. If we aren’t moving the needle for the girl child on every point, then our efforts to achieve the goals are not working.
Let’s go back to our six year old girl. This time imagine a world where she has a chance to influence and shape the world around her. Our challenge today is to build this reality. Let’s get to work.
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