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
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.