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Op-ed: Double discrimination - Girls in EU development policy

3 October 2012
Writing in the Parliament Magazine, Karen Schroh, Head of Plan EU Office, argues that being a child and being female should not mean you are denied your basic human rights.

Girls at school in Vietnam
For every year of education a girl completes, her future income increases by 10%.

A girl in the developing world faces overwhelming odds from the day she is born. Facing the double discrimination of being a child and being female, girls are often denied their basic rights. Research has proven that supporting girls’ education is one of the single most effective development interventions. One that can ensure girls realise their rights, as well benefiting their families, communities, and countries. Just one extra year of school can increase her potential income by up to 25 per cent. Her children are twice as likely to see their fifth birthday as those of mothers with no education. She can be the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, as her children are more likely to go to school as well.

Yet one in three girls globally is denied an education. There are 75 million girls out of school right now. In order to ensure that girls have access to the nine years of education needed for them to realise their full potential, we need to take a closer look at what barriers they are facing. Child marriage is one of the most common barriers to completing education for girls. It’s quite shocking to think that every three seconds another girl is married before she is ready.

The EU has recognised the importance of focusing on girls’ rights. Last year, the European parliament voted a resolution in support of the creation of an international day of the girl. This year, European parliament president Martin Schulz has given his official patronage to the European week of action for girls and the European launch of the first ever international day of the girl child on 11 October. EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has also made strong commitments to child rights and gender equality, and tackling child marriage is specifically included in the new EU human rights strategy.

We welcome these commitments, but more needs to be done by the EU for girls. The European parliament recently voted to earmark 20 per cent of funding in the development cooperation instrument – the main source of EU aid to developing countries – to basic education and health. This is an important step forward and EU member states should support this commitment in the negotiations on the 2014-2020 budget. How that funding is spent, however, will be equally important. European commission development spending on education has traditionally focused on increasing access. While important strides have been made in this area, the EU should place more emphasis on also subsequently completing nine years of quality education. This is critical if this aid is to be truly effective, and gender equality will need to be at its heart.

Implementing the commitments in the EU gender action on benchmarks and indicators is an important first step to ensuring girls become visible in EU development policy. On 11 October, we will celebrate the first international day of the girl child, a day that we have lobbied for over many years by launching our global ‘because I am a girl’ campaign, which aims to support millions of girls to get the education, skills and support they need to transform their lives and the world around them. We welcome EU commitment to this goal, and look forward to concrete actions to follow up on this promise to unleash the power of girls.