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Spotlight on the rights of the Girls

Yesterday’s Global Girls' Summit in Brussels brought together young girls from around the world to put the spotlight on what needs to be done to overcome the barriers girls still face. It was inspiring to hear girls' ideas on how to respect, protect and enforce their rights. Girls' participation in and contribution to the Summit is another confirmation of what we already know: girls have what it takes to become entrepreneurs, doctors, decision-makers, teachers, agents of change – in other words – to become whoever they want to be.

It was only two weeks ago when the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) gathered leaders from around the world to discuss the most important and emerging global challenges and achievements. During that week, among hundreds of side-events, many of them addressed the rights of girls.

Similarly like the Global Girls' Summit, the leaders' “Summit” at UNGA confirmed the obvious: girls can thrive, can inspire, and can succeed (to quote the spirit of yesterday’s Global Girls Summit). It is our common goal to ensure that they have that space.  

The attention should be on girls, due to their underutilised potential to play an important role in their societies. High Representative and Vice President Federica Mogherini has been promoting actively the concerted efforts worldwide that " we should aim for the "new normal" so that things are as they should be: men and women in power to the benefit of the entire society". Girls have the right to receive the same education on an equal footing with boys. Girls should be aware of their rights and be able to make their own decisions; they should be free to choose who they want to be and how they want to live their lives. They must be fairly and equally paid for their job, get equal opportunities of promotion in their careers, and they should take part in the decision-making process.

This is where the EU can play an important role: to make it happen and it is doing it in several ways and through a variety of important initiatives.

Two weeks ago in New York at the UNGA73 the EU jointly with the UN launched the Latin American segment of the important Spotlight Initiative, which aims to eliminate all forms of violence against women worldwide. Specifically in Latin America it aims to eradicate femicides, starting with five pilot projects in Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. In the next few years, more comprehensive programmes by the EU and the UN will be implemented jointly worldwide to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, with emphasis on sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices, on trafficking and economic exploitation, and on domestic/family violence. Core areas of intervention will include strengthening the legislative frameworks, policies and institutions, preventive measures, access to services and improving sex-disaggregated data collection in select countries where these phenomena are most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, South East Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean.

Another initiative where girls are in the spotlight is the EU-supported UNICEF-UNFPA global programme to accelerate actions in one generation to end all forms of child, early and forced marriage, to abandon female genital mutilation and to prevent gender-biased sex-selection. The Programme targets communities from a group of 12 countries and focuses on education, access to healthcare, strengthening enforcement mechanisms, girls' empowerment and the need to change social norms that undervalue girls.

There are many other initiatives all over the world: in Somalia, the EU supports local authorities to establish girl-friendly spaces to improve the attendance of girls at schools; in Kyrgyzstan, we are engaging for violent-free schools and we assist in tackling child marriage; in India we strengthen village education committees to better reach out to marginalized girls; and in Mauritania we support protection and reinsertion of girls domestic workers who have been victims of mistreatments. We can also mention that in Jordan and Nicaragua we focus on addressing gender/sexual-based violence, while in Syria, where half of those affected by the war crisis in and outside Syria are children, we have committed to getting all refugee children and vulnerable children in host communities into quality education with equal access for girls and boys.

The EU will continue supporting such initiatives to respond to the main challenge: the need for a long-term investment to engage not only with girls and women, but also with men and boys, and for entire communities, to become positive agents of change. This year, we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Next year, we will be celebrating of the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Both documents have firmly established that girls' rights are human rights, and that these are indivisible, universal and inalienable. The time has come to stop questioning the rationale behind them, but rather to focus our efforts to make these rights a reality for the millions of girls around the world to gain hope, security and prospects for a better future.