Today is the International Day of the Girl Child.
A Special day to pay particular attention to the needs and dreams of girls, so that they can develop their full potential.
Picture an adolescent girl.
An adolescent girl stands at the threshold of adulthood, poised to become a healthy woman if allowed to develop her potential. She will be shaped by the knowledge she gains and experiences she lives,and will determine how gender roles can be laid out best within her family and community.
Her future rests on her, and our shoulders.
Adolescence is a tumultuous time for children, and even more so for girls. It is a time of rapid physical growth and deep emotional changes. These are exciting, but they can also be confusing and uncomfortable for a child, parent and society alike.
The period of adolescence (ages 10–19 years) is one of the most critical periods in personal development as health and well-being at this age influence new trajectories and cycles with lifelong consequences.
Gender norms and beliefs have significant implications for both girls and boys during adolescence. For girls in many parts of this world they result in bitter consequences such as dropping out of school, child marriage, early pregnancy and exposure to violence.
Gender norms are determined socially, not biologically. When young people grow up to become men and women, they engage with and construct their own gender understandings and biases. What it means to be a boy or a girl.
This socialization process is not fixed in stone. Perspectives can change when fostering gender equitable approaches, for instance by putting more emphasis on what binds boys and girls instead of what is setting them apart. These can have the potential to improve the well-being of adolescent boys and adolescent girls in the short and the long term.
Existing inequalities often deprive girls of their freedom to make decisions, to determine what is best for them in life and for their future. These inequalities makegirls more vulnerable to harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage. Girls who leave school too early are often married off early, bear children at a very young age, overstretching a reproductive period and limiting their roles to domestic and unpaid care work.
Alternatively, when girls complete their schooling, they will marry later, when they feel their body is ready.They gain knowledge and maturity to become more active citizens in society.They raise healthier children when they wish to start a family, earn a living and ultimately contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty.
There are 1.2 billion adolescent girls in the world today, making up 16 percent of the world’s population. In Egypt, there are nine million adolescent girls, more than half of whom live in rural areas.
Inequalities in rural areas are more striking when juxtaposed against urban data. Approximately more than one in four girls marry before the age 18 in rural areas.
For Egypt,investment in human capital is one of its main priorities.The presidential initiative titled ‘Decent Life,’ targets improving the lives of the most vulnerable people, with a focus on rural areas.
As Egypt inches closer to a complete digital transformation, we must ensure that no one is left behind as we adopt technologies across all sectors including education. We must bridge the digital divide between men and women, between the young and the old, and between people living in rural and urban areas. This prepares all young people for the future as active and skilled citizens.
Luckily, Egypt is set to implement the National Project for Family Development (2021-2023) and UNFPA stands ready supporting the achievement of the objectives of this program, just as it supports other national flagship initiatives.
The comprehensive project is aligned with UNFPA’s priorities; empowering women and especially adolescent girls at the center of its objectives.
Women and girls’ economic empowerment specifically is crucial to advancing gender equality. Women’s financial independence is bound to change gender roles within the household, allowing women to break free from their traditional roles in domestic work and unpaid care.
Investing in adolescent girls today will ultimately pave the way to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The empowered adolescent girl of today will be the leader, decision maker, productive worker, and healthy mother of 2030.
On the International Day of the Girl Child, let us pledge to end harmful practices, ensure quality education and eliminate gender inequalities. Let us pledge to invest in girls.
It pays off.
*The writer is UNFPA Representative in Egypt