NEW YORK — According to newly released UNICEF report, 25 percent of girls worldwide aged 15 to 19 have experienced physical violence and 120 million girls have reported being victims of some form of sexual or gender-based violence. In recognition of these facts UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced that the theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child was “Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence.”
For the past three years the UN has recognized the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11. The theme for this year’s day comes as the Secretary-General launches his UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign and as Emma Watson, newly named UN Women Goodwill Ambassador launched the HeforShe Campaign. Recent events, such as the May kidnapping of more than 234 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, have sparked large-scale international discussions about the need to empower young girls in order to eradicate the global culture of impunity that perpetuates gender-based violence.
As part of events that occurred throughout the day, UNICEF celebrated efforts made around the world to empower young girls. One such effort was the Girls’ and Women’s Empowerment Framework launched on October 15, 2014 in Zimbabwe. The framework seeks to empower girls and women to participate fully in all aspects of society. One of its main goals is to achieve equal participation and representation of both genders in the government by 2020. The framework also seeks to empower women and girls through five main pillars: “education, economic empowerment, safety and protection, reproductive health and decision making and leadership.”
Safe spaces for adolescent girls in conflict-ridden countries such as, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Pakistan are essential for protection girls from sexual violence, according to UNICEF. These spaces are intended to provide girls with the support and precautionary tools they need should they ever experience sexual violence and feel they are at-risk of experiencing it. Tools include flashlights, whistles and feminine care products. Support services include counseling and psychosocial support to help girls cope with the conflict around them.
UNICEF also highlighted the Girls Education Movement that began in Uganda in August 2001. The movement seeks to end the cycle of gender-based violence in Africa by empowering girls through education. The movement has succeeded in bringing more than 14,000 girls back to school in Eastern and Southern Africa and now has clubs in more than 2,000 schools throughout the region.
INHOPE is another global initiative highlighted during the International Day of the Girl Child. Through this initiative citizens from around the world can report child sexual violence that is posted on the internet. In posting reports, INHOPE notifies countries and internet providers of reports of such abuse so that they can remove the material from the internet and investigate who put the material on the internet in the first place. The initiative has been highly successful with 93 percent of reported material being removed from the internet in 2013.
All of these initiatives are a part of the Secretary-General’s goal to end violence against girls and women as one of the many efforts to promote and create a more peaceful global society. Through the day the UN called on governments, public and private society to continue their commitments to protecting the rights of girls. The day also comes as part of a larger discussion surrounding the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. Millennium Development Goal Three sought to empower women and girls and promote gender equality by promoting education and greater participation of women in the political process. Gender equality and women’s empowerment will likely also become a major focus of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. The world has made great progress in trying to achieve MDG 3, however, much more work remains to be done.
– Erin Sullivan