EU needs to listen to girls, young women and the civil society organisations that represent them

We must act now and prioritise women’s and girls’ human rights and put gender equality at the top of the agenda, writes Heléne Fritzon.

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By Heléne Fritzon

Heléne Fritzon (SE, S&D) is a member of Parliament’s FEMM Committee and Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary

21 Oct 2020

2020 marks both the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 20th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

It was supposed to be a milestone year for gender equality; instead COVID-19 hit, and we now see reports that existing inequalities are being exacerbated, with gender-based violence increasing and an anticipated dramatic surge in child marriage and adolescent pregnancy.

Although apparently less directly a­ffected by the Coronavirus, the pandemic risks a devastating impact on children, particularly girls and young women.

For the first time in almost 30 years, girls are more - not less - at risk of child marriage, according to a new report by Save the Children. Globally, around 90 percent of children have seen their schools close during the pandemic. Experience shows that girls are much less likely to return to school once they are taken out, and being out of school is a critical risk factor in child marriage.

Plan International have reported that, during past epidemics, resources allocated for routine health services are often diverted, further reducing existing, often-limited, access to sexual and reproductive health services for girls and young women.

According to Marie Stopes International, COVID-19 restrictions could see three million additional unintended pregnancies, 2.7 million unsafe abortions and 11,000 pregnancy-related deaths. These are just three possible consequences of these measures that potentially may have a lifelong impact on the future for girls and young women around the world. We must act to put gender equality at the top of the agenda.

In March 2020, the European Commission and the High Representative Josep Borrell proposed the basis for a new strategy with Africa. This proposed that good governance, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and gender equality in action and cooperation should be integrated into the partnership.

Similarly, as clearly stated in the European Consensus on Development, the EU shall promote - as a priority - women’s and girls’ rights, gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls and their protection.

However, we must ensure that promises are followed by action. First, gender mainstreaming and gender-responsive budgeting must be central to all policy and decision-making and a top priority in this crisis. Without sufficient resources, there will be no implementation.

“The ideas, inspiration and force of girls and young women are crucial to accelerating the realisation of gender equality and to building a more prosperous and sustainable world”

Second, we need to act now. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are life-saving services that must be protected. We must do what we can to end child marriage, and to support already-married girls in realising their rights and making sure that all girls and young women can access education. These aspects must be explicit and subject to greater cooperation in the joint partnership with Africa.

Third, we must listen to girls, young women and the civil society organisations representing them in our response to the crisis and in all matters that a­ffect them. They are our future, and they must be part of the response as well as the solution.

Their ideas, inspiration and force are crucial to realising gender equality and to building a more prosperous and sustainable world. The meaningful role of girls, young women and civil society organisations must be ensured in all aspects of the EU-Africa partnership.