Adolescence is never easy, but it is especially difficult if you are one of the quarter of a billion girls living in poverty. In many parts of the world, adolescent girls are considered to have less worth than boys—they are vulnerable to abuse and discrimination from the minute they are born.
In today’s political climate—where ideological attacks on women’s and girls’ rights and reproductive health are growing—girls face even more dire risks. Today, 62 million girls are not in school, an estimated 120 million have experienced forced sexual acts at some point in their lives, and more than 700 million are prematurely and forcibly married. Approximately 17 million girls under the age of 19 give birth each year, and 3 million suffer unsafe abortions.
Since our founding, the International Women’s Health Coalition has recognized the unique challenges faced by girls around the world. We know that sending girls to school or providing sanitary pads—while absolutely vital to improving their lives—will not alone address the challenges girls face in achieving equality and realizing their human rights.
For the situation to fundamentally change, girls themselves must be empowered to take control of their futures. This is why we provide grants and technical support to community-led programs that provide comprehensive sexuality education and improve reproductive health services, enabling girls to know their rights, access care, and develop essential life-skills and strong self-esteem. These programs have the added benefit of supporting sustainable change—from encouraging parents to end early and forced marriage in Cameroon to combating violence and stigma faced by girls in Pakistan. We support frank conversations to tackle the harmful gender norms and practices that hold girls back. A review of our efforts last year is the focus of our 2016 Annual Report.
IWHC also fights for policies that acknowledge and prioritize the rights of girls. Without sustained advocacy, girls are too often ignored by policymakers. For example, this past year we convinced governments to collect data on marriages below the ages of 15, instead of designating 18 as the minimum age. As a result, previously unavailable data on very young married girls will become available to guide laws and policies to change harmful practices and protect girls’ lives and health.
Underpinning all of our efforts is a firm commitment to girls’ fundamental right to autonomy. Although US foreign aid funding for girls programs is in jeopardy, we remain steadfast in supporting this work. We recently collaborated with Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to ensure the introduction of the Keeping Girls School in Act, which is designed to ensure girls around the world can stay in school and complete a secondary level education. We will continue to push the US government to maintain its support for girls’ programs.
IWHC and our many local partners are not afraid to point out girls’ needs, conduct hard-hitting advocacy to promote policies and practices that defend girls’ rights, and hold leaders accountable to their promises. Our goal is to ensure girls and women can realize their rights and full potential, and lead safe, healthy, and productive lives.
Learn more about our work to empower girls worldwide in our 2016 Annual Report.