Evidence from around the world demonstrates what experience has told us for decades: girls and women are drivers of development. Give them access to health care, and they will deliver more resilient families. Give them the potential to learn and earn, and they will deliver stronger economies. Give them opportunities, and they will deliver solutions.
We know that investing in girls and women – particularly in their sexual and reproductive health and rights, education, and economic and political empowerment – is among the smartest ways to advance progress for all.
A smart way to advance progress
Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence, decision makers again and again fail to include and prioritize girls and women. They are denied access to health services, confront barriers to education, are vulnerable to gender-based violence, and face discrimination when seeking a seat in government and when trying to secure property or financing to propel their families out of poverty.
In spite of tangible development gains – including progress in gender parity in the classroom and reductions in maternal mortality – efforts to truly level the playing field for girls and women have fallen short.
Why? Partly, because of a lack of data and evidence, funding and policy focus on girls and women. Partly, also, because existing initiatives have been working in silos, failing to recognize the cross-cutting nature of the problems at hand.
It takes much more than enrolling girls in school, for example, to increase parity in education, particularly at the secondary and tertiary levels. It requires a holistic approach that eliminates school fees, considers safety issues and travel restrictions for students in remote areas, ensures gender-segregated water and sanitation facilities, prevents child marriage, and focuses on the quality of education so girls are able to enter the formal economy after they finish school.
Social and economic returns
We need to eliminate the silo mentality so that development efforts over the next 15 years focus on women’s health, rights and well-being, and are built on a foundation of cross-sectoral collaboration and integration.
Investing in the health, rights and wellbeing of girls and women is not only the right thing to do from a human rights perspective, it is also the smart thing to do from an economic perspective.
Governments and others need to invest in girls and women - that is how we will achieve the Global Goals
Governments and others need to invest – politically, programmatically and financially – in girls and women, because that is how we will achieve the Global Goals and reap considerable social and economic returns during the decades ahead.
There are many positive models that can be emulated and adapted, including initiatives that are bringing water and sanitation to schools in Zambia*, working to end child marriage in Malawi*, educating husbands about the importance of contraception in Niger*, and improving midwifery care in Cambodia.
These are all savvy investments, and data have been instrumental in proving their worth. Consider family planning services: every dollar spent could yield as much as $120 in benefits*, making investments in sexual and reproductive health and access to contraception both essential to women’s health and well-being and costeffective.
Mind the gender data gap
Women who have equal property and inheritance rights earn nearly four times more income than those without.18 Investing in women’s secure land tenure and property rights represents another effective long-term solution to advancing economic empowerment and eliminating poverty.
One investment that will fuel progress across the board is supporting civil registration and vital statistics: data gathering and data management. Girls and women count, so we need to count them.
Current data and statistics, to a large extent, fail to include girls and women properly. We must close the gender data gap in order to help uncover both the needs for, and the opportunities that arise from, investing in girls and women.
Without reliable data, decisions are made on a faulty footing. By increasing the visibility of girls’ and women’s lives, reliable data can inform more effective programmes and policies. And in the hands of civil society, reliable data can contribute to holding governments and other influencers responsible and accountable.
Girls and women are powerful change makers… We must count them, and count them in.
Girls and women are powerful change makers. With major challenges ahead, the world can no longer afford to ignore them. We must count them, and count them in. Their voices need to resonate in households, communities, societies and halls of power.
Women carry much more than babies. Or water. They carry families. They carry businesses. They carry communities. They carry potential and solutions. And when we count them and invest in their health, rights and well-being, they lift up entire countries – and everybody wins.
Since 2008, Women Deliver – with its partners – has developed and championed the investment case for girls and women. Articulating this investment case is the centrepiece its multi-year campaign: Deliver for Good
This blog was originally featured in Plan International's Counting the Invisible report.
*Plan International is not responsible for content on external sites.