“Without progress for girls, there can be no real progress”—Executive Director

Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka on the International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October 2016


Without progress for girls, there can be no real progress on our global commitments to justice and prosperity. With its vision of leaving no one behind, the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development has gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at its heart. To navigate among the long list of urgent actions for those left furthest behind, we need to know exactly their challenges and their vulnerabilities.  Girls are our sometimes-hidden change-makers of the present and future. We need to know about them, and hear their voices.

To know what they want and need, we need accurate, reliable, transparent and comparable gender data. Adolescent girls may share many of the same risks to their health and rights as their younger siblings or older women, but the challenges that they face are sometimes more acute, partly because they are not visible. For example, the lack of adequate civil registration and vital statistics data in developing countries means that we know very little about the number of adolescent girls giving birth each year. 

We do know, however, that girls’ lives and hopes for their futures can be suddenly altered through early or forced marriage, or being drawn into the demands of unpaid care to sustain their families. Yet the known benefits to their staying securely in school, playing sports, flourishing creatively, transitioning into employment, and taking on leadership roles are increasingly under the spotlight, as are the factors that inhibit the growth of this kind of empowerment. Without data we will not know the scale of the challenge or have evidence of how to realize those benefits.

We are working both on gathering this information, and on building an integrated evidence-base that can help remove the structural barriers to increasing economic empowerment. Last month we launched the new public-private initiative “Making Every Woman and Girl Count” during the United Nations General Assembly. Over the next five years, this US$65 million initiative will increase the production of gender-sensitive data and ensure the results are used to shape policies and increase accountability. Working with our partners, we are supporting countries to strengthen national capacity and systems to collect, analyse and disseminate gender data to improve statistics on priority issues for girls – including gender-based violence, adolescent pregnancy and reproductive health, informal employment, entrepreneurship, and unpaid work.

Through the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment and other important work at UN Women, including its flagship publications and support to civil society, we are looking at the systemic barriers that need to be broken to ready the employment market, improve economic outcomes for women, promote women’s leadership, eradicate violence against women and girls and galvanize political will for change.

As we celebrate this International Day of the Girl Child, I urge us all to make rapid strides to uncover and address the inequalities that hold back women and girls. Lack of data must not hinder the implementation of Agenda 2030. Girls are already leaders of today. With our support to remove the barriers to progress, they can change the world and the destiny of nations.