Malala Yousafzai is, quite possibly, the most famous girl in the world today. Just over one year ago, this young girl was shot in the head by the Taliban because she dared to stand up and speak out to defend her right to go to school. Today, winner of the EU’s prestigious Sakharov Prize, this Pakistani teenager has become a global icon and beacon of inspiration for millions of men, women, girls and boys around the world.
Malala’s story has struck a chord, but it symbolises a global struggle. Every day, poverty, discrimination and violence combine to deny millions of girls like Malala their basic rights, not only to education but also to things like healthcare, adequate and nutritious food, and protection.
Girls are more likely to miss out on school, to be expected to participate in domestic chores and be married at a young age. They are also less able to make free choices, even concerning their own lives and bodies, and face a greater risk of suffering from gender-based violence.
Gender-based discrimination is often deeply rooted in social and cultural attitudes and norms, compounded by religion, and reinforced through discriminatory national legislation or policies, social structures, and education curricula.
The simple fact of being born a girl is often the greatest barrier they face to realising their human rights, and the EU can – and should – play an important role in tackling this. The EU has demonstrated its commitment to this cause, but now is the time to see concrete actions towards achieving it.
The European Week of Action for Girls 2013, which takes place from 11-18 October 2013, therefore calls on the EU to promote and protect girls’ rights worldwide by ensuring they are visible in EU policies and programming.
Experience shows that when girls are not explicitly mentioned as a unique cohort, interventions do not reach them. Girls face particular and acute challenges which are different to those of women, men, and boys. At the same time, girls’ experiences differ according to their age, with adolescent girls facing different challenges from younger girls.
By explicitly including girls in policies and programming, and ensuring data collected is disaggregated by sex and age, the EU and partner countries will be better placed to identify and respond to the particular needs of girls across the different age groups.
When girls are empowered to participate in decision-making, in the life of their communities and in economic, civic and political life, everybody stands to benefit. By helping to protect and promote their rights, the EU will play an important role in helping girls to unleash their potential as powerful drivers of change.
Today, and every day, we stand beside Malala and the millions of girls around the world like her who continue to fight for their basic rights. The EU must do the same.
By Alexandra Makaroff, Head of Plan EU Office, and Neil Datta, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Population and Development. This article was first published on TheParliament.com.