In a year that has seen hard-won rights of women and girls face renewed threats – and when conversations at the global level have shifted from how ambitious we might be to how to hold ground – you might feel there is little to celebrate this International Day of the Girl.
Or maybe, you’re looking in the wrong places.
While the US government has extended efforts to deny women and girls’ reproductive rights, and a growing coalition against gender equality and LGBTQ rights strengthens its grip on the UN processes we have so often relied on to drive change, progress has been made. You just might not have noticed.
So, this International Day of the Girl, here are just five big wins for girls worth celebrating.
- Ending child marriage: This year, Côte d’Ivoire passed a bill to harmonise all marriage laws in the country and set the minimum age of marriage at 18. The President of Burkina Faso committed to do the same at our 100th birthday celebrations. Mozambique’s parliament has passed a bill removing all exceptions to child marriage – when the President signs this bill into law Mozambique’s laws against child marriage will be more progressive than those in the UK.
- Ending female genital mutilation: In February, all 54 African countries signed onto an African Union initiative to end female genital mutilation across the continent.
- Achieving universal education: More than 3,000 girls in Mozambique were allowed to return to school in July when the government lifted a ban on pregnant girls attending regular high schools and primary schools. Mozambique currently has the fourth highest rate of adolescent pregnancy globally, meaning that many, many more girls and their babies will benefit from this reform through improved education and consequently through economic opportunities, social and political empowerment, increased decision-making power and improved health and nutrition.
- Building new alliances for equality: Changing the social norms that support gender inequality in every society is critical to realising girls’ rights. And the people who shape those norms – teachers, parents, community and religious leaders – are therefore critical allies for girls. In June this year, a senior cleric from one of the world’s most prestigious centres of Islamic learning issued a fatwa against child marriage – a hugely important step in giving Muslim leaders the authority to become active allies for ending child marriage.
- Funding sexual and reproductive health for adolescent girls and universal health coverage: In the face of increasing opposition, this September, £600 million in UK aid funding was secured for 20 million more women and girls who are unable to access family planning in the world’s poorest countries. This investment will prevent more than 5 million unintended pregnancies and 1.5 million unsafe abortions, and will stop 9,000 deaths from complications in pregnancy and childbirth annually. This will address unintended pregnancy as a critical driver of child marriage, help girls stay in school and, most importantly, give girls control over their bodies so they can choose if, when and how many children they want.
This year, the theme for International Day of the Girl is “GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable” and will kick-off 12 months of intensified campaigning by Save the Children in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. That was the first international instrument to recognise the rights of girls, their potential and the challenges they face. It is still the most progressive blueprint for gender equality and, unfortunately, as relevant today as it was 25 years ago.
While Beijing+25 reminds us that progress for gender equality remains precarious and has always been too slow, it is undoubtedly unstoppable. For a reminder of why, listen to the poems written by Best*, 14 (pictured above), and other girls from conflict-affected parts of Nigeria, who took part in a poetry workshop with Young People’s Laureate for London Theresa Lola for this year’s International Day of the Girl. Happy IDG!
* Name changed to protect identity