It’s our shared responsibility to protect girls’ and women’s rights

Oct 12, 2015

Op-ed by Magdy Martínez-Solimán, UN Assistant Secretary General, UNDP Assistant Administrator, Director of Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, New York, for  the Girls' Rights Gazette, European Week of Action for Girls


Today, there are 250 million girls living in poverty. Gender inequality remains the most pervasive form of inequality around the world. In many parts of the world, girls suffer from inequality, discrimination and abuse, facing threats to their security, health and welfare.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development makes a pledge that “no one will be left behind”. To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, a specific Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is established, with gender equality as a cross-cutting theme and UNDP is working towards making this pledge a reality.

Access to basic services will advance girls’ rights but they will only be guaranteed when girls are empowered. This means that girls everywhere should be able to access opportunities and resources, control their own lives, make decisions about it, and be able to contribute to the development progress, nationally and internationally.. The services she can or cannot access, will influence her chances to enjoy quality health services, education and decent employment. In turn, the status of women impacts the wellbeing of their communities.

While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) allowed to eliminate disparities in primary school enrolment between boys and girls in all developing regions and double women’s representation in national parliaments from 11% in 1995 to 22% today, there is a need to do more.

Every year, millions of girls and young women have their bodies and rights violated by female genital mutilation (FGM). Together with EU and partners, we have managed to move FGM from a “tradition” to a crime. The latest figures from the Egypt Demographic and Health Survey show that we are winning: the percentage of circumcised girls aged 15-17 has dropped from 74% in 2008 to 61% in 2014. And mothers’ attitudes are changing, too: 92% of mothers were circumcised, but only 35% of them intend to circumcise their daughters.

UNDP is supporting governments to fulfill their international commitments in the area of discrimination against women and to integrate gender aspects into national strategies, policies and budgets. Together with the European Union and partners, we are supporting women in local governance, promoting their participation in elections, both as women and candidates, and fight female genital mutilation, among many others.

Progress in achieving gender equality can’t be reached without common efforts and adequate funding. Today, fewer than two cents of every dollar spent on international development is directed toward adolescent girls. This is despite evidence of the enormous impact that investing in girls has: when a girl receives 7 or more years of education, she marries 4 years later and has 2 fewer children on average. If girls are empowered with the education and skills they need, they would increase global GDP by 5.4 per cent.

So let’s invest in girls because what we do for girls today will define the world we will all have tomorrow.

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