The power and potential of girls is tremendous. As a group and as individuals, they are capable of transforming the world around them. For example, an extra year of secondary school increases a girl's potential income by 15 to 25 per cent, and reduces infant mortality by five to 10 per cent.
"All they need is the opportunity. Yet millions of girls around the world are denied the opportunity to fulfil their potential by the daily realities of poverty and discrimination"
Investing in girls means empowering them to stand up for their rights, to get an education, access to health care, find decent employment and be in control of their own lives. This is critical to ensure lasting change and a better future, not just for girls themselves, but for their families, their communities and their countries.
All they need is the opportunity. Yet millions of girls around the world are denied the opportunity to fulfil their potential by the daily realities of poverty and discrimination. Too often, girls are missing out on a quality education. Rather than going to school, they are expected to take on the role of house keeper and carer, bearing a disproportionate burden for domestic chores compared to their brothers. They are often married too young, to men they did not choose, and they become mothers when they themselves are still children. They are subjected to violence and harassment on a routine basis. All because they are girls. This must change.
But it will not be easy. The governance structures through which society is organised, including political, legal, judicial and educational, implicitly favour men. At the same time, the idea that women are subordinate to men, and that men and women have completely different roles and responsibilities in life, has become ingrained in many societies. As a result, male dominance continues to be reinforced and replicated at all levels of society, meaning that girls and women continue to be treated as second-class citizens.
Challenging this institutionalised and ingrained inequality may not be easy, but there are many initiatives around the world that demonstrate it is possible. We need to work with girls themselves, but also with parents, communities and authorities. Men and boys, as husbands, brothers, community leaders or religious leaders, also have a crucial role to play in promoting gender equality and empowering girls.
"The EU can, and should, do more to break down the barriers girls face in realising their rights by ensuring specific actions are targeted at women and girls"
The EU can, and should, do more to break down the barriers girls face in realising their rights by ensuring specific actions are targeted at women and girls. Experience shows that when girls are not explicitly mentioned as a unique group, interventions do not reach them. Girls face particular and acute challenges which are different to those of women, men, and boys, and at the same time, girls' experiences differ according to their age, with adolescent girls facing different challenges from younger girls, for example.
This goes beyond mainstreaming which can lead to theoretically taking into account women's and girls' needs in a systematic way, but actually often dissipates support via actions which only tangentially address their rights. It must, therefore, be accompanied by targeted action focusing on capacity building and fostering collective action for women and girls.
The upcoming review of both the gender action plan and the human rights strategic framework offer ideal opportunities for the EU to put girls' and women's rights at the heart of its action. Failing to do so is not only a missed opportunity, it is tantamount to planning for poverty.