Pakistan school girls

The once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the lives of girls - and the world

Progress is being made for adolescent girls in negotiations around the Sustainable Development Goals, but there are more opportunities to ensure girls are meaningfully and effectively at the heart of the world’s next development agenda.

The opportunity to change the world doesn’t come around very often – every 15 years, to be exact. 2015 is one of those years. That’s why we need to seize the moment to ensure that girls get what they need today, so they are in the best position possible to achieve their rights and potential, and help end global poverty.

In September, countries around the world will agree on the post-2015 development agenda, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDG process is well under way. For nearly two years, world leaders have been in deliberations, consultations and working sessions to help create a roadmap for ending global poverty, achieving equality and tackling climate change by 2030.

The time has come for the world to recognise the powerful contribution girls can make. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have led to significant progress, including halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and increasing the number of people who have access to clean drinking water. However, the MDGs fell short in achieving their full ambition – in part because of the failure to invest in adolescent girls.

While girls are one of the most vulnerable and marginalised populations on the planet, they have a unique ability to bring themselves, their families and communities out of poverty. But we must ensure they get what they need to unleash their potential.

Asian girl with rice

That’s where the Girl Declaration comes in. It highlights the five areas where girls need investment in order to unleash their potential and change the future of global poverty: education, health, safety, economic security and citizenship.

So where are things now?

Member states of the UN have already determined the draft 17 goals and 169 targets that will shape the development agenda through to 2030. It’s an agenda more complex and ambitious than the last set of goals.

But within those 17 goals and 169 targets, how are girls faring? Here’s where we see some of the promising signs of progress:

  • Goal 3 on health presents promising opportunities for girls. We welcome the inclusion of targets around sexual and reproductive health, and hygiene and sanitation.
  • Targets in Goal 4 around education include strong language for girls.
  • Goal 5 is about achieving gender equality for girls and women, and is a huge step forward. Ending violence against girls is specifically referenced, and it goes without saying that is crucial. Of particular note are direct references to ending harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.
  • Goal 16 includes a target to ensure that countries provide a legal identity to everyone, including birth registration for girls.

We challenge global decision-makers to ensure girls are meaningfully engaged throughout the entire post-2015 process.

While this is significant progress to celebrate, there are still areas where girls need more:

  • Language on adolescence needs to be strengthened, so that the specific rights, needs and potential of adolescent girls are addressed. Adolescence (ages 10-19) is a critical period when a girl’s future potential and opportunities can flourish through education, economic opportunities and other support. Conversely, this potential can be stifled by the end of their education, child marriage, early pregnancy and other challenges.
  • Targets in Goal 3, around sexual and reproductive health, need to be strengthened in order for girls’ full rights and needs to be realised.
  • Throughout the framework, language that emphasises human rights and gender equality should be strengthened further. Human rights define the basic needs of adolescent girls to fulfil their potential. International law sets out and protects this language, and the SDGs should do the same.
  • The latest draft of the SDGs is ambitious – and equally ambitious should be the ways the goals are measured. The framework’s indicators should take into account the full reality of girls’ lives. What gets measured gets done. Adolescent girls are a distinct group with unique needs that must be counted and accounted for. Strong indicators for girls would be a game changer – not just for them, but also for the world. In particular, we would like to see the data that is measured and collected divided into these groups: age in five-year bands, sex, geography, income, disability, marital status, race and ethnicity.
  • Girls must be put front and centre when it comes to how the goals will be financed, implemented and governed. These integral elements remain unfinished, and there is still time to put girls at the heart of the process.
  • As the world decides how the goals get financed, it’s crucial that resources are directed to improving how data on girls is collected and used.

We challenge global decision-makers to ensure girls are meaningfully engaged throughout the entire post-2015 process. Girls have valuable insight to offer global leaders as they make decisions that will have an impact on lives around the world, and it’s not too late for their input to be included.

It’s time to listen to girls when it comes to determining how the goals will be implemented and monitored. That is the only way to effect lasting change.