World Population Day: Invest in Teenage Girls


 UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka visits the United Nations Trust Fund (UNTF) - supported Grassroot Soccer SKILLZ Street intervention at the Yomelela Primary School in Khayalitsha, the largest informal township in Cape Town South Africa.    Photo: UN Women/Karin Schermbrucker
Photo: UN Women/Karin Schermbrucker

World Population Day on 11 July focuses on the importance and urgency of population issues. This year’s theme “Investing in teenage girls,” calls for action to address the enormous challenges faced by teenage girls across the world.

Of the 700 million women alive today who were married as children, more than one in three were married before they turned 15.[1] As young brides, girls have to forgo their youth and adolescence years, as they take on family responsibilities. They are unable to negotiate safe sex practices and vulnerable to early pregnancy, contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Too many girls are denied the right to education and equal opportunities, keeping them in the cycle of poverty. 

In 2015, world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aiming to end poverty, combat inequalities and promote prosperity while protecting the environment by 2030. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers a real opportunity to drive lasting change for women’s rights and equality. Goal 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls includes targets on ending all forms of violence and harmful practices against women and girls, including early and forced marriages. Turning the vision of the SDGs into reality starts with investing in girls.

The positive impact that empowered, informed teenage girls can have on their communities is unparalleled, and largely untapped. Alongside government and civil society partners, UN Women is working to break the barriers to leadership, participation and equal opportunities for girls and young women, including ending all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. In 2016, the first Youth Forum at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) drew over 300 youth participants and developed the first-ever “Youth-Agreed Conclusions” for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, drawing attention to the specific needs and potential of young women and girls.

Investing in and unlocking the potential of teenage girls and young women everywhere should be a top priority, so that they can pursue a world of equality: a Planet 50-50 by 2030.

Feature stories

A rally against early marriage. Photo: Kakheti Regional Development Foundation

Early marriage banned in the Pankisi Gorge, Georgia
Religious leaders in the Pankisi Gorge will no longer endorse marriage for those under the age of 18. Pankisi is located in the eastern part of Georgia and is mostly populated by ethnic Kists. The decision was made by imams from traditional Islamic mosques, together with the Council of Elders in the Gorge.

Sita Shrestha stands infront of community tab at Irkhu VDC-7 in Sindhupalchwok, Nepal. Photo: UN Women/N. Shrestha

From where I stand: Sita Shrestha
Sita Shrestha, 19, took part in a two-day training on leadership organized by the UN Women-supported women’s group SAATHI, in Nepal, following which she helped construct a tap and organize villagers to turn a natural water source into a public space they could share.

GirlsGoIT was the first summer camp in Moldova for young women who want to improve their IT skills. Photo: UN Women in Moldova/ Dorin Goian

Moldova ramps up IT training for girls
Created to boost Moldova's innovation capacity by teaching young women digital tech and IT skills, UN Women’s GirlsGoIT plans more local IT clubs for girls and an IT summer camp in 2016.

Alaa in a mosaic workshop in UN Women’s women center (Oasis) in Zaatri Refugee Camp. Photo: UN Women/ Christopher Herwig

Voices of women survivors of violence: Alaa’s “wedding”
Two years after her marriage at 15, Alaa already has a little girl and a husband and a baby on the way. They live together in a small caravan in the Zaatri Refugee Camp in Jordan, where she can’t fit a bed.

At the first regional training of trainers in December 2014 in Pune, India, youth leaders from the girl guiding movement in the Asia and the Pacific region learned how to deliver non-formal education activities to young people to challenge gender stereotypes and how to conduct campaigns. Photo: UN Women/Urjasi Rudra

Voices against Violence 
Voices against Violence, a non-formal education programme by UN Women and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts is empowering girls and young women in 35 countries to prevent violence against women in their communities.

Female adolescents and girls as young as 11 years old are taking classes in robotics, auto-mechanics, computer programing and electronics.

Girls bridge the digital gender gap in Central America
Nearly 3,000 girls and youth across Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic are using technology and innovative strategies to achieve gender equality in male-dominated fields.

Malawi Chief annuls 330 child marriages
In a country where half of girls are married before age 18, UN Women played a key role in lobbying for a new law that raises the legal age to wed, while raising awareness and working with traditional leaders to annul marriages.


[1] UNICEF (2014). Ending Child Marriage: Progress and Prospects, p. 2, 4.