By ANNE-BIRGITTE ALBRECTSEN
The Sustainable Development Goals were a step forward for girls. The adoption of a standalone goal on gender equality, Goal 5, was a major landmark, an indicator of the international community’s commitment to ensuring that women and girls have equal opportunities by 2030. Furthermore, girls are mentioned explicitly in seven targets. But do the SDGs go far enough in truly protecting girls’ rights?
Plan International’s new research argues perhaps not.
Girls are one of the largest excluded groups on the planet, carrying a double burden of gender and age-based discrimination. They are disadvantaged as compared to boys in education, work, health and family life, and can experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination from poverty, ethnicity and disability.
Despite these challenges, international law and agreements continue to take a relatively gender and age-neutral approach, effectively rendering girls invisible. Particularly concerning is the fact that both the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – the cornerstones of girls’ rights – explicitly refer to girls only once. The specific challenges and barriers girls face to accessing their rights are all too often concealed under the ageless category of “women” or the gender-neutral categories of “children”, “adolescents” or “youth”. This means that girls continually fall in the shadow of women’s and children’s rights, and the specific barriers they face to claiming their rights remain obscured.
In order to better understand this issue, and position girls at the heart of the international agenda, Plan International has launched the Girls’ Rights Platform. This platform houses the world’s most comprehensive and searchable human rights database of more than 1,400 international policy documents. This unique tool will be an important resource for diplomats, NGOs, activists and academics, providing them with easy access to robust language to promote and protect girls’ rights. The Girls’ Rights Platform will also be a hub for training to help build knowledge and understanding of these critical issues, and includes a 6-module training tool.
Together with the Girls Rights Platform, Plan International has published an in-depth study on the status of girls in international law. The Girls’ Rights are Human Rights report dives into these 1,400 international policy documents and highlights the gaps in human rights protection for girls.
One of the important findings of Plan International’s research relates to a concerning pattern of reservations in international law and policy. Reservations are caveats to international agreements that allow States to choose not to be bound by particular provisions. The research has found, unsurprisingly, that most reservations around girls concern their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), as well as issues surrounding equality in marriage and family life. These reservations are often justified by States on the grounds of religious or cultural differences, but whatever the reason, they erode girls’ autonomy over their own life and their bodies. Even the Sustainable Development Goals attracted a high number of reservations, a third of which relate to gender equality and SRHR. Despite the few specific mentions of girls, the high number of reservations on these critical issues calls into question the willingness of Member States to truly move the needle on girls’ rights.
The Sustainable Development Goals do go further than their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which mentioned girls only in the context of education. Still, girls in the SDGs remain grouped together with women or boys. In addition to the 2030 Agenda being the object of many reservations on issues critical to girls’ rights, the Goals don’t go far enough to truly single girls out and highlight their specific needs and barriers that are different from women and boys.
As a global leader on girls’ rights, Plan International is calling on the international community to single out girls, articulating their rights and needs in a way that has never been done before. If the current gender and age-neutral approaches continue, girls will remain in the shadows. Plan International urges the international community to:
Without making these changes, girls around the globe will continue to slip through the cracks. In their implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is critical that States intentionally and explicitly address the double burden of discrimination faced by girls in all issues, and recognise the realisation of girls’ rights as an objective in itself.
Published on IISD on February 8, 2018
By Corinne Redfern
"We’ve never had this many female pupils before,” says principal Lal Chandra Pandey as the class opens their textbooks. “I’d say we were used to 90% of the girls in the region coming to school for a few years, and then typically having to leave at around 14 or 15 and get married. It was only last year that we noticed they were staying on for longer and longer. We had to borrow more chairs from the primary class next door.”
It’s been more than a decade since Pandey started teaching at Shree Nepal Rastriya higher secondary – a school positioned precariously on the edge of a lake in Nepal’s southern district of Kapilvastu – and he’s never seen anything like it. “But of course, by this point, we know who’s responsible.”
As if on cue, 17-year-old Sheskalo Pandey lifts her gaze from her notebook and raises her hand to ask a question. She’s been awake since 4am, when she began weaving paper baskets in the dark – but she won’t let her concentration slip. “School is my whole life,” she tells me later. “I’m working so hard to be here. It wouldn’t make sense if I didn’t work even harder when I get to my desk.”
The girls choose to sit together, she says. “We’re not going to distract each other. I won’t let that happen. I’ve invested too much in this.”
Three years ago, just after Sheskalo’s 14th birthday, her parents decided it was time she got married. “Two of the girls I walked to school with had dropped out of our class to get married, and my family decided I should probably leave too,” she recalls. “They said that it was expensive – and that walking in on my own was too dangerous in case I was raped. I think they thought I’d be happy because I could plan a wedding instead.”
To her parents’ dismay, the teenager reacted by bursting into tears and refusing to eat for four days. “Even when my mother brought me a bowl of homemade curd – which we never have because it’s so expensive – I left it on the ground. I felt sick, like my whole future was being taken away from me.”
Then Sheskalo remembered a group of elderly women she’d seen making handicrafts and selling them at wedding fairs. This could be one answer, she thought, and came up with a business plan to sell handcrafted baskets, bowls, calendars and incense at markets across the district in order to enable her to pay the 300 rupees (£2.20) monthly school fees.
“I begged my brother to lend me enough money to buy some coloured paper and glue,” she says. “He’s older than me, and had been allowed to finish school and go to university, so he agreed. He said he was proud of me for standing up for myself.”
With his support, their parents caved – agreeing that Sheskalo could attempt to pay her own school fees for six months. But if she failed, that was it: marriage was the only solution. Her mother nodded while Sheskalo made her business proposal, but her father remained silent. “I thought it was because he didn’t approve,” she says. “But the next day he came home with a rusty bicycle he’d spent all his savings on. He said that I could pay him back when I started making money. And that at least this way, he knew I’d be safe.”
Her debt was repaid two weeks later, and within two months other girls in the village were asking Sheskalo for help. “I could barely leave the house without somebody stopping me,” she recalls. “Mothers were pleading with me to teach their daughters how to make money so that they could stay in school too, and my friends started telling their parents they didn’t want to get married either.”
Community workers funded by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) caught wind of the girls’ rebellion, and began to coordinate a “girls only circle” where they could talk freely about their fears of forced marriage and ask for professional support to prevent it happening. Accountants were drafted in to teach them about banking and managing their money.
And when the time came to elect a group president, it was an easy choice. “There are 35 of us who have bought our own bicycles now, and we stopped two girls from getting married last month,” Sheskalo says proudly. “Next on my list is gender-based violence. We’re actually making a really big impact in a really short time.”
She now earns up to 8,000 rupees (£56) for a month’s work. Half of her income goes to her father, and she saves the rest. She’s saving to do a degree in accountancy after she finishes her final exams next year. In January, she began an course in computing, cycling an hour and a half to the town of Taulihawa once a week and paying 900 rupees [£6.60] to learn how to use Microsoft Word and Excel.
“I’d never even seen a laptop before,” she says. “My instructor says I have potential, but sometimes he still has to hold my fingers down because they keep slipping off the keys – I’m not really sure how to keep them still.”
“It’s not complicated why girls are made to drop out of school,” she says. “It’s just about money. People don’t have enough food to eat three times a day, so if you have a daughter, you’re going to want to find her a husband as soon as possible because that means you won’t have to feed her any more.”
Societal conventions also demand that the more educated a girl, the higher the dowry her parents are expected to present to their in-laws: a financial demonstration of gratitude for taking their worldly daughter off their hands. “If I left school in year seven, maybe my parents would only have to give my husband’s family a buffalo and some jewellery,” Sheskalo explains. “But if I finish school or go to university, they’ll probably have to buy gold necklaces and motorbikes – and a refrigerator too.”
Despite a legal age limit of 18, 41% of girls in Nepal are married before reaching that age – through secret ceremonies conducted in rural regions, or local police reportedly bribed with local alcohol to stay quiet. In Kapilvastu, an agricultural region, the figure is thought to be almost double that.
“Nepal is seeing slow but steady movements in the right direction, and the government has developed a sound strategy for ending child marriage,” says Lubna Baqi, the UNFPA’s Nepal representative. “However, there is a lot left to be done. Keeping girls in school is key to mitigating child marriage. Empowering girls with knowledge – and the confidence which comes with it – is key.”
Ending child marriage is one of the key targets for the sustainable development goals, and there is slow global progress being made.
With that in mind, as the morning’s classes come to an end at 11am, Sheskalo is one of the first out the door – wheeling her bike towards the gate in a rush. “I love school, but there’s too much to do to hang around,” she says. “I mean, some of us have businesses to run.”
Published on The Guardian on November 9, 2017
While a new United Nations study shows that the global poverty rate could be more than halved if all adults completed secondary school, data show high out-of-school rates in many countries, making it likely that education completion levels will remain well below that target for generations.
"The new analysis on education's far-reaching benefits released today should be good news for all those working on the Sustainable Development Goal to eradicate poverty by 2030," said Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
"It shows that we have a concrete plan to ensure people no longer have to live on barely a few dollars a day, and that plan has education at its heart," she added.
Based on the effects that education had on growth and poverty reduction in developing countries from 1965 to 2010, the new analysis by UNESCO's Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report team, shows that nearly 60 million people could escape poverty if all adults had just two more years of schooling.
"If all adults completed secondary education, 420 million could be lifted out of poverty, reducing the total number of poor people by more than half globally and by almost two-thirds in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia," according to UNESCO.
The paper, from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) on reducing global poverty through universal primary and secondary education, is being released ahead of the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) which will be held in New York from 10 to 19 July and focuses on poverty eradication in pursuit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It demonstrates the importance of recognizing education as a core lever for ending poverty in all its forms, everywhere.
Studies have shown that education has direct and indirect impacts on both economic growth and poverty. It provides skills that boost employment opportunities and incomes while helping to protect from socio-economic vulnerabilities. An equitable expansion of education is likely to reduce inequality, lifting the poorest from the bottom of the ladder.
However, if current trends continue, of the 61 million primary school age children currently out of school, 17 million will never to set foot in a classroom - one in three of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and Northern Africa, and more than one in four of those in Central Asia and Southern Asia.
Moreover, girls in poor countries continue to face particularly steep barriers to education.
While UNESCO underscores that education must reach the poorest in order to maximize its benefits and reduce income inequality, according to the GEM Report, children from the poorest 20 per cent of families are eight times as likely to be out of school as children from the richest 20 per cent in lower-middle-income countries.
The paper stresses the need to reduce the direct and indirect costs of education for families.
Published on AllAfrica on June 22, 2017.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights that must be realized for children to develop their full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. It reflects a new vision of the child. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. By recognizing children's rights in this way, the Convention firmly sets the focus on the whole child.