Policy for girls’ rights

International law consistently overlooks girls’ needs, leaving them to fall through the cracks between the women’s and children’s rights agenda. Plan International’s UN offices are advocating for the inclusion of gender, age and diversity and for girls to be addressed as a unique demographic in order to bring girls to the forefront of international law and policy.

A girl from Brazil who takes part in a Plan International programme on girls' rights

5 things to know:

  1. Girls’ rights are not being addressed. In international law, the protection and fulfillment of girls’ rights fall under the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). However, in reality, because the CRC was designed to be gender-neutral and the CEDAW does not distinguish between age groups, girls’ rights and the particular challenges they face are not being adequately addressed in either of these significant human rights conventions.  
  2. Language matters. Although girls as a distinct group are more prominently mentioned in international soft law – which is not legally binding – most often it is not done substantively and consists of simply inserting the word “girls”.
  3. Reservations are hindering progress. There is clear resistance among several countries to core principles in CEDAW and CRC that are key to girls’ rights. CEDAW is the key human rights instrument to protect women, but nearly 40 years after it was adopted, 48 out of the 189 States that have ratified it have done so with opt-outs (formally known as reservations). 
  4. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their targets relating to areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), child marriage, and sexual violence – particularly when abortion, gender, or comprehensive sexual education are mentioned -have attracted the highest number of reservations.
  5. In recent years there has been a noted push back against human rights at the international level. This is partly due to a failure to consistently use progressive language and more conservative agendas taking root. This has created space to renegotiate agreed language and has resulted in weaker protections for girls.

What needs to happen:

  • The international community must address the double burden of gender and age discrimination in all relevant laws and policies. This will require differentiating girls’ rights from women’s rights to address the fact that girls may face distinct challenges.
  • Tackling discrimination must be a priority. Reservations to the CEDAW and the CRC show States’ reluctance to tackle discrimination when it clashes with religious or cultural views. This had direct consequences on efforts to address sexual violence, early pregnancy, access to contraception and other SRHR services, as well as child marriage, economic empowerment, and comprehensive sexuality education.
  • States should invest in age, sex and gender-related disaggregated data that will adequately reflect girls’ realities in their policies.
  • The use of gender-specific language rather than gender-neutral language must be standardised in international agreements and national policies.
  • Norm and frameworks for producing future international policy and agreements must reflect the challenges that girls face.
  • States should withdraw all reservations to the CEDAW, the CRC and the SDGs and all other international agreements that provide protection to girls.
  • States must strengthen the implementation of the relevant instruments at national and local levels.