Today, October 11 marks the second annual International Day of the Girl. This year, the theme for the day is the “Innovating for Girls’ Education,” and the culmination of 11 days of action to support girls. Organizations around the world are calling attention to the crucial role that girls’ education plays in achieving far-ranging improvements, a point highlighted by UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotemiehin, who pointed out, “we know that the benefits of girls’ education, especially secondary education, are far-reaching: delayed marriage and childbirth, fewer maternal and infant deaths, lower fertility rates, lower risk of HIV infection, and increased economic and political participation.” The Day of the Girl also provides an opportunity to highlight the ways that focusing on girls and their needs lends a new, urgent perspective to well-known health and development challenges.
Adolescent girls are not children, but they’re not quite adults. That makes them particularly vulnerable, powerless and at risk of different forms of exploitation. They are a category on their own with very specific needs that global policy makers and the international humanitarian community must identify, understand and tackle appropriately.
So far, this hasn’t happened. Adolescent girls have notably been left out of the Millennium Development Goals agenda which, while successfully targeting the improvement of healthcare standards for women and children, has failed to address crucial issues regarding teenagers. In the eyes of those driving development, an adolescent girl is invisible. . . Nearly 10 percent of all girls in low-income countries are mothers before they turn 16. They are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women aged 20; their bodies are just not ready for pregnancy. Yet in African countries — where half of all births are to adolescent girls — sexual and reproductive health services tend to focus exclusively on married women.
Other highlights from the International Day of the Girl include webcast of the Day of the Girl Summit, which includes a discussion of critical ways that girls’ experience the links between issues like water and sanitation and access to education, and I Know. I Want. I Dream. Girls’ Insights for Building a Better World, a new report by the International Center for Research on Women. The report draws on thevoices of girls from 14 countries, and makes the case that girls’ insights are critical to the next global development agenda. The report forms the background to the Girl Declaration, a call to action beyond this year’s celebration, urging global leaders to place girls at the center of development efforts.