“We have a great transformative promise which in turn leads to lasting impact across generations”—Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the launch event for the "Adolescent Girls Reclamation of Education Empowerment (A.G.R.E.E.) Initiative” on 22 September, in New York.

Date: Thursday, September 22, 2016

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Excellencies, distinguished guests, young women and young men leaders, good evening,

On behalf of UN Women, I want to thank all of you who are here today to help us celebrate the launch of Adolescent Girls Renew Empower Educate (A.G.R.E.E.), a remarkable new initiative to increase capacity building and education for adolescent girls and young women in Sierra Leone, and we expect, throughout Africa.

At the onset, I would like to welcome the Honourable Ambassador Choong-hee Hahn of the Republic of Korea, Ms. Helen Reisler- Permanent Representative of Rotary International to the United Nations, Chairman of the Rotary Club Foundation, and other distinguished guests.

We are very glad to announce this initiative in partnership with the Rotary Club of New York and the Rotary Club of New York Foundation. The Rotary Club continues to be one of the most impactful international service organizations and we commend their dedication to global citizenship and humanitarian work.

Let me start by explaining why UN Women is uniquely positioned to partner with the Rotary Club of NY on this exciting initiative.

UN Women has recently celebrated its sixth year of existence. We were created with global mandate to advance the norms and standards on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights and to translate such norms and standards into reality by accelerating progress on the ground and achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls everywhere.

One of the areas in which UN Women is forging accelerated action is on movement building.

Last year, UN Member States agreed on the need for comprehensive financing for development, adopted the new agenda for sustainable development, and charted a global agreement on climate change, the Paris Agreement. In all these historic developments, UN Women played a critical role in ensuring that there are concrete and transformative elements to drive progress on and ensure achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

I am sure you are familiar with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. UN Women and gender equality advocates around the world were instrumental in securing the stand-alone SDG5 to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, as well as to ensure that gender equality was mainstreamed throughout the new agenda for sustainable development.

However, what we want to stress is that gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is central for progress on all the SDGs.

In the context of A.G.R.E.E., we aim to achieve SDG 4 to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all”. In this, the focus is on ensuring equal opportunities and outcomes in education for all girls and boys, all young women and young men, and all women and men. In order to advance this goal, let me share with you some facts:

  • Education is a fundamental human right and we know that providing girls and young women with education and skills development are transformative and carries impact across generations.
  • Education is one of the most powerful tools we have to break the cycle of poverty, to end early and forced marriage, to improve maternal and child health for girls and women. At the same time, our entire society benefits from educating girls and women.
  • While significant progress has been made in ensuring that all children, adolescents, and young adults have access to a quality education, there still remain important disparities and gaps.
  • UNESCO’s statistics show that of the 57 million out-of-school primary-aged children around the world, 31 million are girls. Similarly, two-thirds or 493 million of the world’s adult illiterate population are women.
  • In 2013, one out of 10 girls and one out of 12 boys were out of school.
  • In addition to gender-based discrimination within their families, within their communities, and at the institutional and normative level, women and girls may face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that impact their ability to access quality education.
  • Girls are almost 2.5 times more likely to be out of school in countries affected by conflict, and studies show that girls are less likely to have access to education in situations of displacement than boys

Another area in which UN Women is furthering efforts to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls is through its positioning of itself as the hub for knowledge on the issue.

We have recognized the importance of gender disaggregated data as a fundamental step towards achieving all our goals, and we serve this purpose for example through our “Empower Women’s Knowledge Gateway” and the “Global Indicators Gateway for the Sustainable Development Goals”

Also, UN Women is recognized as the global convener on the issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment across all sectors.

In our programme work, for example in Sierra Leone, UN Women has established a track record of working with the government and with civil society to empower young women and adolescent girls, strengthening their organizing capacity and their agency and voice, and supporting young women’s empowerment and economic development.

UN Women leads innovative advocacy campaigns that inspire individuals, organizations, and governments to take action on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Emblematic of this focus of work are renowned campaigns Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality, HeForShe and UNiTE to End Violence against Women.

UN Women delivers programmes on the ground, with a presence in almost 100 countries around the world. We are committed to ensuring that our initiatives reach the girls and young women who are most marginalized and that all girls and women enjoy access to opportunities for education and skills development throughout the life cycle, at all levels.

We have a strong commitment to ensure that no one is left behind. This has inspired UN Women to launch its global strategy for youth and gender equality.

This is the first youth-specific strategy identifying the importance of young women’s economic empowerment and skills development.

The Youth Strategy calls for strengthening the Leadership of young women in all spheres.

We must have education that ensures adolescent girls and young women have the right skills to participate and thrive in emerging economies, and promotes leadership and entrepreneurship.

This must also happen in an ecosystem that respects and protects the fundamental human rights of all adolescent girls and young women. That means zero tolerance towards violence in all its forms and the youth strategy focuses on action to end all forms of violence against young women and adolescent girls.

Additionally, we must promote the participation, voice and action of adolescent girls and young women, such as clubs and community groups and other organizations and networks, led by adolescent girls and young women.

The A.G.R.E.E. initiative will empower adolescent girls through education and give them the confidence to amplify their own voices and increase their economic and civic participation.

We must also work with boys and young men to change their attitudes and shed the culture of toxic masculinity, to promote a culture that respects the rights of all girls and women. 

Last, but not least, is to work towards intergenerational partnerships so that adolescent girls and young women can bring their energy and spirit into the women’s movement, and their unique perspectives into the youth movement.

A.G.R.E.E. is grounded in UN Women’s youth and gender equality strategy and proposes a clear pathway to empower adolescent girls and young women in their education and skills development.

This partnership will start in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and create opportunities for economic empowerment and skills development for adolescent girls and young women and strengthen their participation, voice, and agency at local, national, regional, and global levels. The project will focus on three areas:

  • Skill development and capacity-building for adolescent girls and young women to participate in emerging sectors of the economy in Sierra Leone. Emphasis will be placed on emerging and ecologically sustainable sectors in Sierra Leone such as ICT, WASH, solar energy and eco-tourism. Adolescent girls and young women will receive vocational training and young women entrepreneurs will be supported in the establishment of small businesses, and there will be a strong focus on reaching adolescent girls and young women who are out of school and experience other barriers to employment.
  • Strengthen support and mentorship for adolescent girls and young women in and out of school, to facilitate opportunities for employment and career development. We will support ‘girls’ clubs’ that provide training, ICT skills and human rights and reproductive health education. Private sector partners will be engaged in the ‘girls’ clubs’ to act as mentors and facilitate training and employment opportunities.
  • Mainstream gender issues into Sierra Leone’s national youth programming and infuse a gender-responsive and gender-transformative focus into Sierra Leone’s existing programming for youth empowerment, leadership, and participation. We support and train youth leaders and government representatives, and leverage gender-disaggregated data to mainstream and address the unique issues of adolescent girls and young women, as well as engaging boys and young men in gender equality.

A.G.R.E.E. will be data-driven and is committed to iterating, improving, and increasing its impact – starting in Freetown, Sierra Leone and ultimately, implementing in other districts and regions.

Through this partnership, we have a great transformative promise which in turn leads to lasting impact across generations.

Today, we thank our partners again and all those gathered in support for their commitment to education and skills development for young women and adolescent girls.

Today we are taking our first step.

Let us work together to ensure that the right to quality education is realized for all adolescent girls and young women!

 Thank you.