New ICRW Report, Photo Exhibit Amplify Girls’ Voices

Article Date

10 October 2013

Article Author

By Gillian Gaynair

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

A new International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) report stresses that the needs of adolescent girls must take a more prominent role in the next set of global development goals and that if girls cannot fully participate in the social, economic and cultural life of their communities, achieving development targets will continue to be elusive.

The report, I Know. I Want. I Dream: Girls’ Insights for Building a Better World calls on government leaders, multilateral institutions and civil society groups to ensure that girls’ voices help guide the post-2015 development goals. The report also outlines the context and justifications for the Girl Declaration, which provides a global call to action for putting girls at the center of the global development agenda.

ICRW on Friday will release the Girls’ Insights report during an International Day of the Girl event focused on why adolescent girls are key to overcoming global poverty in the post-2015 development agenda. The event also celebrates the launch of the Girl Declaration and will include a photo exhibition by adolescent girls from Ethiopia.

“Together, ICRW’s Girls’ Insights report and the Girl Declaration amplify girls’ voices and illustrate that girls worldwide can be active agents of change, both in their own lives and in the global development agenda,” ICRW President Sarah Degnan Kambou said. “Despite repeated promises from decision makers, girls’ voices are still not being heard. Now is the time, as the post-2015 agenda is being designed, for us to truly listen to these future women of the world if we intend to alleviate poverty and achieve all development goals.”

Their voices are many: Worldwide, 250 million adolescent girls live in poverty and have unique needs that experts say are not being met by current policies and programs. Girls’ needs were discussed under one of the goals in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were signed in 2000 and defined a set of global targets to eradicate extreme poverty and promote education, gender equality, health, environmental sustainability and good governance.

Thirteen years later, many countries have achieved gender parity in primary education, but tens of millions of primary school aged girls still aren’t attending school, and a significant gap remains between boys and girls in reaching secondary school in most regions. Girls also continue to face multiple challenges, from poverty, violence, forced marriage, and poor mental and physical health, to maternal mortality, legal disenfranchisement and social isolation.

“Adolescent girls have diverse needs that cannot be met through investments in only, for instance, basic education; girls also need to be protected from violence, to complete secondary school, to have access to employment opportunities, and to have the freedom to decide when and whom to marry,” said Ann Warner, ICRW senior gender and youth specialist and a co-author of Girls’ Insights. “The current global dialogue on the post -2015 development goals presents an opportunity for us to do better. Girls are too big a part of the population and their needs are too significant to be a footnote in the next set of global development priorities.”

Earlier this year the research firm 2CV, along with local partners and nongovernmental organizations, facilitated a series of consultations with more than 500 girls ages 10 to 19, from poor communities in 14 countries.

The Girls’ Insights report contextualizes the findings from these consultations and groups girls’ voices and contributions into three broad categories: girls’ identity, girls’ environments and girls assets and opportunities. Some highlights:

  • Adolescent girls’ identities are shaped by how they see themselves and how their families, governments and communities view and treat them. However, girls said others have restrictive roles and expectations for them, which often include marriage before they are ready. Still, girls’ hopes and dreams are not limited by others’ narrow expectations. They want to be involved in the choices that affect them, especially when and whom to marry.
  • Girls’ lives and opportunities are molded by their social and physical environments. Girls want to feel safe in their homes and communities, and they want better living conditions for their families. They also take pride in their communities and have a deep desire to contribute solutions to the problems that they face.
  • Girls said they still lack even the most basic knowledge, autonomy and other assets critical for their health and empowerment. They also spoke of how traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage hurt them and limit their opportunities. They expressed feeling sad and isolated and having low self-esteem. Ultimately, girls wanted to be happier, emotionally resilient and to feel supported by those around them.

“Of all the topics that girls discussed, education rose to the top as one of the most important to them,” Warner said. “Girls are frustrated with the quality of their education and they yearn for more opportunities to learn. They feel that more education would help protect them from harm and give them the skills they need to grow into strong, productive, confident women.”

The report stresses an urgent need for legal and policy standards that are explicitly designed to respond to girls’ unique needs and vulnerabilities – such as those expressed in the Girl Declaration. Simultaneously, more investment is needed in campaigns and programs to change harmful gender norms, the report says.