Activists amplify call to action from world’s girls

Article Date

25 September 2014

Article Author

Erin Kelly

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Every day, tens of millions of girls around the world don’t have the opportunity to decide when, if, and whom to marry. They don’t have the chance to go to a good school, which can prepare them for jobs that will help lift their families out of poverty. And they lack access to safe, affordable sexual and reproductive health care that will let them control their own future.

Recognizing we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve the lives of girls from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), Let Girls Lead, the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development, and Advocates for Youth joined together on Monday, September 22, the first day of United Nations General Assembly meetings, to call on world leaders, donors, and the global community to ensure that adolescent girls—and their needs—are central to efforts to end poverty.

“Girls at the Center: Bringing the Girl Declaration to the Post-2015 Agenda” brought speakers together for a panel discussion including ICRW’s Suzanne Petroni, head of Gender, Population and Development, M.A. Keifer, International Policy Analyst at Advocates for Youth, Hon. Fawzia Koofi, Member of Parliament in Afghanistan, and Memory Banda, an 18 year-old girl leader and survivor of gender-based violence from Malawi.

Moderated by Howard Taylor, Vice President and Managing Director of the Nike Foundation, panelists discussed the Girl Declaration, a global call to action by more than 500 girls in various developing countries, which serves as a framework for how and where adolescent girls’ needs must be prioritized in the post-2015 development agenda, which member states are currently joining together to discuss.

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell gave opening remarks in strong support of the Girl Declaration and advocates’ efforts to put girls at the center of the post-2015 development agenda. She referenced four priority areas for the U.S. government with regard to girls and women in the post-2015 framework: Economic empowerment, gender-based violence, political participation and sexual and reproductive health. U.S. leadership on these issues will be critical as we enter the year-long inter-governmental negotiations process that lies ahead. It will be important to have governments with as much influence at the UN as the U.S. insisting that girls’ rights not be negotiated away.

Dr. Suzanne Petroni highlighted recent research from ICRW, including a report that details the barriers adolescents face in getting reproductive health care and spoke about broad themes found in the girl declaration, including girls’ desire to be heard and listened to, to live lives free of violence, and to be treated fairly and given the chance to contribute to their community and country’s welfare.

Hon. Fawzia Koofi, who recently announced she would be running for President of Afghanistan in 2019, spoke about her work as a Member of Parliament in Afghanistan, and the importance of focusing on protecting girls’ and women’s rights. After decades of conflict, Hon. Koofi spoke about how women and girls have made gains over the past several years, noting that Afghanistan now as a woman on the Supreme Court. However, she commented that  the rule of law must be strengthened to ensure that rights are a core piece of law and practice in her country. Additionally, Hon. Koofi noted that while many gains have been made in Afghanistan’s major cities, women who live in rural areas still face many seemingly insurmountable barriers, including inequitable beliefs that lead to inequality and lack of access to resources like health care for pregnant women.

M.A. Keifer spoke about the importance of not only ensuring girls have access to reproductive health services, but that their rights to bodily integrity and sexual health must be protected and respected in the next round of development goals.

The panel concluded with the powerful voice of an adolescent girl herself. Malawi’s Memory Banda, an 18 year-old girl leader and survivor of gender-based violence, spoke about her role in empowering girls in her community and why the issue hits so close to home for her. At age 11, Memory told the audience, her sister was married off once she became pregnant. Memory felt helpless, remarking “nobody stood up for her.” After bearing witness to this, Memory decided to become an advocate for girls, working to end child marriage for girls like her sister throughout Malawi.

Supported by the Nike Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, and the Gabarron Foundation, the event galvanized an audience from around the world—including  Members of Parliament from Russia, Sweden, Ecuador and Guyana—to once and for all, ensure that adolescent girls are not an afterthought in effort to end global poverty, but are front and center. We must recognize that they are a partner and key ally in ensuring we end poverty once and for all.