1. Girls get global recognition
What started two years ago as the Girl Declaration ended with girls’ needs being put on the global development agenda for the first time ever. The Sustainable Development Goals summit made history by ensuring that girls and women not only got their own dedicated goal, but by also prominently featuring Malala at the opening session they put a teenage girl on equal footing with world leaders. The SDGs will run for 15 years and influence how trillions of dollars of aid money will be spent. It’s a victory for girls and the beginning of a long journey.
2. Hardship leads to leadership
The refugee crisis proved impossible to ignore any longer this year, with global headlines showing families fleeing conflict and violence. It shone a light on how refugee girls feel the impact harder than others. Their education gets disrupted, they’re more likely to be forced into early marriage, and there’s an increased risk of trafficking and abuse. The hardship, though, has provided an opportunity for leadership. Step up, Muzoon. She’s the 16-year-old living in a refugee camp in Jordan. When she noticed that girls her age stopped going to school because they were getting married, she set about advocating for refugee girls’ education. The world and Malala took notice and helped fund a girls’ school in Muzoon’s camp. Yep. Girls make great leaders.
3. Girls’ education became impossible to ignore
When an 18-year-old girl opens a session at the United Nations and takes centre stage at the Global Citizen Festival in New York City’s Central Park a day later, you know girls have got the world’s attention.
The benefits of educating girls are indisputable, and now that it’s in the spotlight we expect big things.
While Malala has tirelessly campaigned for girls’ education, this year saw other big names picking up the mantle. The United States launched a global girls’ education initiative, Let Girls Learn, with Michelle Obama leading the charge. The UN’s refugee agency dedicated an award to Aqeela Asifi, who made it her mission to convince a community to send their girls to school. And around the world, girls claimed their right to education in their communities. The benefits of educating girls are indisputable, and now that it’s in the spotlight we expect big things.
4. More commitments to end child marriage
Every minute, 28 girls get married. But efforts to end child marriage have gained momentum. The African Union held its first Girls’ Summit to End Child Marriage, and world leaders committed to stamping out this harmful practice at the SDGs summit. Girls proved, though, that they are best placed to speak out about child marriage, from the Afghan rapper Sonita to Dieynaba, the graffiti artist in Senegal. If this keeps up, the rate of child marriage will fall, especially if we keep the pressure on heads of state to live up to their promises.
5. Girls break taboos around their bodies
In 2015, periods stopped being a dirty word. We saw the rise on social media of Menstrual Hygiene Day which was marked around the world. In India, girls demanded freedom from the taboos surrounding their bodies by protesting on the streets and online. The Indian media followed suit, representing girls and women in ways that were never seen before in advertising and film. Meanwhile, young women designers came up with an innovative solution that answered girls’ needs for sanitary products in the developing world. And a British woman, Amy Peake, made it her mission to ensure that girls and women in refugee camps get the sanitary pads they need to maintain their dignity. The natural function of girls’ bodies doesn’t have to be shameful any longer.
6. Cutting out FGM
This year saw a record number of people using the #EndFGM hashtag, less than a year after it was first coined. Egypt saw its first conviction and jailing of a doctor over the FGM-related death of a 13-year-old girl. Nigeria and The Gambia banned the practice, and many more countries have developed action plans to tackle FGM or to ensure robust data is collected on the practice. Girls haven’t kept silent themselves. More and more they are demanding a life free from this traditional act of violence. Girls like Naserian, who took part in an alternative rite of passage rather than undergo the cut. And women like Jaha Dukureh, who survived FGM and took her awareness-raising campaigns to a national level. Let’s make sure heads of state don’t forget the pledges they made to enforce bans on FGM.
7. More robust data on girls collected
With the SDGs in place, the next step is to ensure that the right kind of data gets collected. This year, the Clinton Foundation launched the No Ceilings report. This ground-breaking piece of research presents hard evidence of how girls and women are still being held back. Another promising development was the launch of the Data2X, a global partnership to make sure girls and women get counted. The next step in the data revolution will be when the UN decides in March how it will measure its progress against the SDGs. We’ll be watching, and so should you.
8. Connecting girls
The fact that there are more mobile phones than toilets is well known. But, despite the widespread use of mobile technology to do everything from socialising to banking to actually speaking on the phone, there’s shockingly little known about how girls and women use it. When it comes to connectivity, women in developing world cities are 50 per cent less likely to access the internet than men. Education and income are determining factors. This doesn’t look good for girls, who are held back on both counts. Some positive steps have been taken, such as the launch of Facebook’s internet.org, of which Girl Effect is a partner. And we’re seeing more apps targeting issues such as gender-based violence including ones in Cambodia and Turkey. With the push for girls’ education firmly on the global agenda, we expect to see more girls becoming connected, learning to code and filling the gender gap in the tech industry. Once this happens, girls can code for girls. We can’t wait.