There are 600 million adolescent girls in the world, most of them living in the developing world.
600 million adolescent girls who each overflow with the potential to become an entrepreneur, a scientist, a visionary change-maker, or the leader of her country. But so many of these girls face daily, arduous barriers that prevent them from reaching their potential. Every 10 minutes, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence. Pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death and illness for adolescent girls. 65 million girls are out of school. Almost 1,000 young women are newly infected with HIV every day. And more than 13 million girls will become child brides this year alone.
This month, UNICEF launches the Girls’ Empowerment Initiative, a platform that mobilizes our extensive partnerships, communications, and advocacy efforts to transform the risks and deprivations adolescent girls face into pathways towards a better life. UNICEF is proud to have Gucci as a founding partner of the initiative. UNICEF’s Girls’ Empowerment Initiative builds on innovation as a driving force of change for girls, a key principle that underwrites UNICEF’s Gender Action Plan.
Innovation to empower girls, designed with girls in mind. UNICEF is committed to finding, developing, and escalating innovative solutions in the forms of new technologies, models, and ways of thinking towards empowering girls. One of these innovations is U-Report, a social messaging tool that currently has over 1,300,000 female users – called U-Reporters – in 35 countries. The platform is a place for girls to voice their opinions, questions, and concerns, and to engage in conversations on issues that matter to them. More than 45,000 young girl U-Reporters participated in a May 2017 global poll on menstrual hygiene management highlighting the real challenges girls face, including inability to attend school while on their period due to absence of sanitation services, and lack of knowledge of and access to safe, reliable, affordable sanitary products. UNICEF supports WASH in schools in over 80 countries, including separate and private toilets for girls and boys. It is taking findings from research in 14 countries on barriers to girls managing their period and developing scalable solutions in partnership with governments and the private sector.
Another innovative program UNICEF supports looks toward quality girls’ education and future employability is the joint UN IT Girls initiative in Bosnia & Herzegovina. IT Girls teaches young girls and women to code so they have the skills and confidence to pursue careers in the high-paying ICT sector. The Girls’ Empowerment Initiative will expand these and other successes and invest in new, innovative platforms and ideas, including through the 2017 Innovation Gender Challenge which calls for proposals across 190 UNICEF Country Offices.
Empowering adolescent girls and giving them the opportunities they deserve leads to healthier families, strengthened economies, and more equitable societies. It’s not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do as we strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In fact, it is clear that none of the 17 goals that the world has committed to achieving by 2030 can be realised without investing in and empowering the largest generation of adolescent girls the world has ever seen. As UNICEF and partners highlighted at the 2016 Day of the Girl, girls’ progress is Goals progress, and most importantly, essential for a brighter future for every adolescent girl.
Dr. Anju Malhotra is Principal Adviser, Gender and Development at UNICEF, where she provides leadership on gender equality, including policy, programmes, and research, and serves as the organization’s most senior representative and spokesperson on gender issues.
Patty Alleman is a senior advisor for UNICEF in NY, living a strong passion for creative partnerships and positive narratives for gender equality.