“The 2030 Agenda’s commitment to leave no one behind is about girls who do not have access to equal opportunities as boys”

Remarks by Ms. Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women at “Girls Speak Out” event on International Day of the Girl Child, ECOSOC Chambers, United Nations Headquarters


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Excellency, Minister Hadju, distinguished colleagues, girl activists, ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Good afternoon.

I would like to start by thanking the Governments of Canada, Peru and Turkey for their commitments to the International Day of the Girl Child, thanks also to the Working Group on Girls and all the other co-organizers of this Summit for bringing together today’s event which reminds us all of the promise of the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind, and that of SDG 5 to “achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. It is indeed an honour to sit here today and listen as these amazing girls use their voice and talents to speak out for their rights and the rights of their peers.

As Sarah said today at the Observance organized by UNICEF, a girl with a dream is fire, and this is exactly what we are seeing here with the energy and passion with which these girls have become change makers to their families, their neighbourhoods and the international community through this important event.

The 2030 Agenda’s commitment to “…leave no one behind” is about girls who do not have access to equal opportunities as boys.

It is about the girls around the globe who experience alarming rates of or are at risk of sexual and physical violence in both public and private spaces.

It is about the girls who are burdened with levels of unpaid care work within their families that far exceeds that of their male counterparts, whether that may be cooking, cleaning, caring for family members and collecting water and firewood. It is certainly and dramatically about those girls between the ages of 5 -14, referred to in a recent study by UNICEF that showed they spend 40 per cent more time than boys doing care work and domestic work.

“Leave no one behind” is about those girls that are systematically denied their right to education and face disproportionate barriers to achieving economic empowerment and independence across all levels.

It is about the girls forced into child marriage and early pregnancy, not to mention the girls who do not even have the opportunity to be born due to sex-selective feticide.

For girls in remote areas and rural communities, from indigenous communities, those who are migrants and refugees, girls in conflict and post-conflict settings, LGBTQI girls, and girls with disabilities—and for all girls—there are unique and intersecting forms of marginalization and vulnerability.

It is important to note, however, that these challenges are not exclusive to girls living in far regions across the globe. As heard here today, this is the reality for many in the modern economies. Here in the United States, girls face marginalization and discrimination on the grounds of their religion, race or socio-economic status, for example. Let me tell you, that none of these factors should ever be used as an excuse for victimization or marginalization of girls or anyone, yet for girls these factors increase hugely the potential risk of violence and abuse both at home and in the public space. 

We need to ask ourselves, “what are we doing for them?” And this is exactly what this event is about.

We are all here to listen to girls speak out for themselves and for those whose voice may not reach us. As UN Women, we are here to join efforts and stand up for girls to fully enjoy their human rights and realize their potential. Humanity can’t afford to lose half of the world’s creativity, passion and work. When you invest in a girl everyone benefits.

And this is what has inspired UN Women’s global strategy for youth and gender equality. This strategy calls for strengthening the leadership skills of adolescent girls and young women in all spheres: economic empowerment and skills development of girls and young women, action to end all forms of violence against girls both in public and private spaces, strengthening voice and participation of young women and adolescents girls and their networks, strengthening  partnerships with young men and boys  as equals for gender equality and strengthening inter-generational partnerships to create a succession plan and connect the dots at each stage of the life cycle to achieve a truly transformative society.

It is evident that we cannot continue with business as usual. We need to continue to work on all fronts, including normative, policy, operational and advocacy, at the international, national and local levels. We need to ensure that the 2030 Agenda delivers for all women and girls, paying special attention to reach those furthest behind first.

Every single girl must be supported. Their voice should be heard. They should be granted spaces for participating and making effective contributions in those decisions-making spaces that shape their lives and that of their communities.

As we celebrate International Day of the Girl Child today, let us commit to make significant front-loading, game-changing efforts to guarantee that the promises of the 2030 Agenda start to materialize today and ensure that girls can be girls and that they have the right to live a life free of fear, violence and discrimination.

I thank you.