10 March 2020 - Global

Generation Equality: Unfinished business

Young women's group standing in a circle putting their hands in the middle, Sylhet, Bangladesh

“Don’t stop advocating, even if you are not getting immediate benefits, you will be rewarded someday. We, as advocates, should join hands to see that the voices of all girls are being heard.” Purity, 14, Nigeria

Who runs the world? Or maybe a better question is – who should? According to the latest World Economic Forum report (WEF), some progress has been made this past year to get to a more gender equal world, but there remains an indefensibly long way to go, particularly in politics and in economic empowerment.

At the current rate of progress, it will take another 100 years to achieve equality across the dimensions of politics, health, work and education. That is a lot more than one generation. My own mother was one of the first women who was “allowed” to continue working in the Netherlands after she got married and then subsequently had to stop when she had children in the late 1960s. So, yes, a lot has changed for the better, but another 100 years seems a glacial pace.

What is particularly concerning in the WEF data? Two areas I would like to call out: the lack of progress in politics and the seemingly slowing or even reversing progress in economic empowerment.

Gender inequalities begin in childhood, and to address them, we need a sustained and specific focus on children - particularly girls. This means getting the right policies and laws, at national and subnational level written, agreed and signed. Having young women and girls involved in this process is therefore critical.

Girls across the globe have shown us repeatedly that with support and access to decision-making platforms, they are powerful drivers of change in their own families and communities. While the world is grappling with the newest threat of coronavirus, for girls, this comes on top of the threats they face every day to their rights to survive, learn and be protected from harm.

Girls continue to face barriers and rights violations in nearly every aspect of their lives. They are six times more likely to be married than boys, more likely to be out of school, and more likely to die of malnutrition. 150 million more girls will marry between now and 2030, making them more likely to experience ongoing gender-based violence, miss out on their education and face serious health complications related to adolescent pregnancy and childbirth.

In the world of work, stubbornly low levels of women in leadership positions remain, which is not news. What is particularly worrying is that young women and girls are also underrepresented in those professions and areas of education that will be critical for future livelihoods, particularly, but not exclusively, in technology. In addition, we know women entrepreneurs have a much harder time finding funders willing to invest in their ideas.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – a unanimously endorsed landmark framework for translating commitments to gender equality into reality. Governments, civil society and private sector partners will spend the next six months mapping out a “blueprint” to urgently accelerate progress for gender equality over the next five years. Girls must be front and center. The Beijing +25 or “#GenerationEquality” process was intended to kick-off officially this week at the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in New York. Due to ongoing concerns of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and a responsibility to protect the health of gender equality advocates, including girl champions across the globe, the UN Commission has wisely decided to postpone the annual celebration. Yet despite this, we know these crucial conversations and decisions are vital to drive progress for girls over the next five years and they must go on. Girls’ rights cannot be postponed.

We must continue this work relentlessly, in our home capitals or communities, using the tools of modern technology to keep our focus on the needed change. During the Beijing +25 process, we stand with girls and urge governments, civil society and the private sector to act now to #EndChildMarriage and #InvestinGirls, including through ensuring concrete commitments to:

  • Systematically support girls’ voices in shaping the decisions that impact their lives, whether in communities, schools or national capitals;
  • Urgently increase funding commitments so girls are safe, healthy and educated in their everyday lives and in times of crisis; in particular, we need to end child marriage and help girls who are already married have a brighter future;
  • Create and maintain a world where girls have equal opportunities, through laws and policies that respect, protect and fulfill girls’ rights.

During my eight years with Save the Children, I have seen first-hand what it means to give girls a leading role in answering these problems. I have seen girls in refugee camps from Za’atari in Jordan to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh talk about what it means for them to not get married at an early age. I have seen girls in many countries talk about the importance of staying in school, especially into secondary and tertiary education. I have heard mothers talk about the importance of having a say in their household and communities about money.

Save the Children continues to work from the household and the community to the national level in places around the world to help change policies, shift social norms and improve health and education services so that girls can survive and thrive alongside their brothers. For example, in Malawi, we are supporting girl champions like 16-year-old Cecilia to be an advocate and resource in her community to help other girls stay in school and delay marriage until they are ready. But so much more is needed to close this 100-year gap.

Cecilia, 16, speaking on a panel with members of Congress on Capitol Hill in 2019

Cecilia, 16, speaking on a panel with members of Congress on Capitol Hill in 2019.

I stand with girl advocates who are leading the way in driving positive change in their communities, even when we cannot be standing together in person this week. We will continue to support girls’ voices by sharing their priorities and experiences with government representatives and seeking out safe platforms for them to meaningfully engage directly with policy-makers from now through the culmination of the Beijing +25 process at the United Nations General Assembly in September when governments will be making concrete commitments to gender equality; and until every last girl can fulfill her rights and her dreams.  

We will mobilize in countries around the world, engaging allies and partners who will help us drive the change we need for girls. But we need your help too – whether you are a policymaker, community leader, parent or everyday person who believes in a better world: help us raise up these girls’ voices. Help end child marriage and invest in girls. Help us share this blog, and their stories on social media, and look out for more ways you can join our campaign to #EndChildMarriage and #InvestInGirls in 2020.