"There is consensus that girls are central to development. Yet, girls continue to bear the brunt of poverty and ill-health, including maternal mortality, unsafe abortion and HIV. Issues relating to girls’ sexuality and their sexual and reproductive rights remain largely neglected.
According to the World Health Organization, some 16 million girls between 15 and 19 and two million girls under the age of 15 give birth each year. For them, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death. Approximately 82 million girls in developing countries will be married before their 18th birthday. This will disrupt their education, even though women with more years of schooling have better maternal health, fewer and healthier children and greater economic opportunities. Biologically, girls’ health can be more vulnerable than men’s. Of particular concern are the dramatic increases in HIV infection among young women, who now make up 60% of the 15 to 24 year olds living with HIV. Girls are also exposed to various forms of violence from harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and the growing problem of sex trafficking to early and forced marriage.
Disparities in the way girls and boys are raised and treated are at the root of poor sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and development challenges. For boys, adolescence can mean new freedoms and greater participation in community life. Girls, however, may face the opposite: restrictions in their access to choices, education, services and support. Traditional gender roles give girls little say about their own hopes and dreams. Yet we know it is possible to take effective practical action that enables girls to tackle gender inequality and ill-health and to fulfill their potential.
The Girls Decide initiative and the project I ♥ Being a Girl are a step toward this. Girls Decide aims to ensure that girls have access, as a human right imperative, to life-saving SRH services and information. I ♥ Being a Girl, recently winner of a World Summit Youth Award, promotes a positive approach to the sexuality of young women through online tools.
IPPF/WHR also invests in services and programs targeting girls. CIES, our local partner in Bolivia, offers medical, psychological, and social care, while ensuring confidential and quality SRH services to young people. In 2011, over 101,270 consultations were undertaken. Sustained leadership is required to ensure that girls are recognised rights-holders. Policymakers can help transform lives of girls by supporting evidence-based research that reflect realities of girls’ sexual and reproductive lives; investing in youth-friendly services and programs; guaranteeing access to comprehensive sexuality education; and creating supportive legal and policy frameworks and social norms. The benefits of investing in girls are transformational – for their own lives and for their families, communities, and countries.
Empowering girls so they can make healthy choices not only boosts economic growth, but are also essential to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Let’s give them greater choice and control over decisions that affect their sexual and reproductive lives and help break the cycle of poverty and inequality for the next generation. "
Investing in Girls is Essential to Ending Global Poverty
Fiona Salter & Elena D’Urzo*