Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October 2015
The cadre of 15-year-old girls living today were born at the advent of the Millennium Development Goals into a world of hope. Not all of those hopes were fulfilled. Many have already dropped out of school to look after family members or take informal work to help support the family. More than 250 million of our 15-year-olds are already married, too many are facing the likelihood of HIV infection, especially given the high unmet needs for family planning. The resulting pregnancies and deliveries remain hazardous; complications are one of the leading causes of death for girls aged 15-19. And every 10 minutes somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies by violent means.
These, and the generations that follow them, are the young women for whom we are working so hard. We know what stood in the way of the achievement of the high hopes of the MDGs. On 27 September, more than 70 Heads of State and Government spoke in New York at our “Global Leaders’ Meeting for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Commitment to Action”, to emphasize their understanding of the centrality of gender equality, and the empowerment of all women and girls. The leaders of Bangladesh, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Spain and South Sudan have all specifically committed to ending or supporting the elimination of child marriage or female genital mutilation. The participation of 140 Member States made this the largest and most influential gathering of world leaders dedicated to achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. This was the watershed between the MDGs and the start of the new 15-year period of the new Agenda for Sustainable Development.
We are determined that it will not take another 15 years to bring these girls better chances in life. We are calling for all countries to repeal discriminatory laws that create barriers for girls, whether to attend school, to access the healthcare they need, to qualify for decent jobs and earn equal pay. We are lobbying for governments and employers to offer support and social services that end the reliance on unpaid care work only in order to sustain households. We are calling for investments in infrastructure to be attentive to the needs for water and sanitation, to energy and fuel sources, so that girls do not need to waste their time on fetching drinking-water or firewood, and do not have to miss school for any reason. And we are calling for schools to teach girls the STEM subjects they need to compete with confidence for the jobs of the future.
Never before has so much attention been focused with such determination on ending violence against women and girls. Now, not only are the women’s movements calling for its end; we are being joined in a rising tide by young men signing up to state their solidarity to end gender inequality, change gender stereotypes and take a stand against violence, which is claiming headlines in every country on a daily basis. From sexual harassment at work to extremist violence, from domestic abuse to campus rape, from trafficking to online cyber-violence. The extent, and the nature of the pervasive violence against women and girls has been made public. We are calling for it to be made completely unacceptable. It was emphasized as a priority by the majority of speakers at the global leaders meeting, and action will follow.
We know we have an extraordinarily long way to go to achieve what we want for our 15-year-olds. But they must know that they, and all their siblings, are in the spotlight. Today is the Day when we focus our attention on the Girl Child, but it is not a day in isolation. It is part of a massive and relentless drive towards a world of equality: a Planet 50-50 by 2030.