Advancing girls’ equality for much more than one day

What would the world look like if girls were equal to boys? This year’s International Day of the Girl provides a tantalising glimpse of the change we want to see, writes Plan International CEO Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen.

Imagine a world where girls and young women are seen and heard, occupying positions of influence within their communities and beyond. Today, on 11 October, you don’t have to imagine: girls will be stepping into the shoes of political, social and economic leaders in a mass takeover that will make the invisible lives of girls – both their plight and their potential – truly visible.

By the end of the day, there will have been over 250 takeovers in more than 50 countries. From the President of Nepal and the Vice-President of Paraguay to the Minister of Finance in Canada, leading figures will be stepping aside; in Uganda, a girl will take over as speaker of the national parliament; in Guinea-Bissau, a young woman will co-host a national TV debate; in China and Thailand, girls will take over their teachers’ roles, and in Indonesia a girl is taking over the role of the Minister of Manpower.

When girls see what is possible, they are more likely to be inspired for themselves and to become active agents of change. But the takeovers also provide an opportunity for those stepping aside to work with young women, to listen and to learn; to find out from them directly how they want to change their lives for the better.

Millions of girls denied their rights

Because lives need to change. In every walk of life, in every corner of the world, girls face discrimination and injustice. Millions are denied their rights to a good education. They are unable to play an active and equal role in society. They are prevented from taking important decisions that affect their own lives, including decisions about sexual and reproductive health. And they are often at risk of violence, simply for being a girl.

Things can change. Last year the UN agreed an ambitious set of Global Goals that include the promise of achieving gender equality by 2030. While the challenges in achieving those goals are vast, they are not insurmountable, if we act and act now. That will require a clear-sighted agenda for change, based on six key elements.

Joint action for girls

First, we need to get the legal framework right. Currently, there are few direct mentions of girls in key international human rights instruments and, until that changes, girls will remain invisible. But we also need to build a movement to bolster those rights, and to drive change more widely.

A strong, grass-roots movement for girls’ rights has emerged in recent years. We need now to strengthen and sustain that movement, building solidarity with the girls and young women already at the front lines demanding their rights. Our global ‘takeover’ is just one way in which we plan to grow that movement.

Data to drive global movement

Third, while the UN’s Global Goals represent an impressive statement of intent, they are just words unless governments act on the commitments they have made. We need to be ready to help countries deliver, but also to challenge them when they do not.

If we are going to hold governments to account, we need better data and we need to use it more effectively: girls are ‘invisible’ to policy-makers because they are not being counted. But better data are also vital to making the right kind of decisions and investments that can transform girls’ lives.

Transformative change also requires new ways of working. We need to involve everyone, and the private sector has just as much of a role to play here as NGOs. Only by finding new ways of collaborating will we be able to find new solutions to complex problems.

Finally, we need to get the resourcing right. Just meeting the worldwide need for pregnancy-related care will require $28 billion annually, a 100% increase from current funding. We’ll need to be smarter about using all of the resources that are available, including working with the private sector.