Rohingya girls carry firewood in Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh: 32 million girls are still not in school.
Photo: ©UN Women/Allison Joyce

Despite gains in education, girls faced with inequality and violence

Ever more girls receive school education – a sign of great progress. But women and girls continue to be exposed to abuse and violence, millions of girls are still experiencing child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Violence against women and girls is still common, as pointed out by UNICEF, Plan International and UN Women just a few days before World Women’s Day on 8 March. 

More girls are going to school and staying in school than ever before, but remarkable gains in education have made little headway in helping shape a more equal, less violent environment for girls, the three organisations warned in a new report entitled A New Era for Girls: Taking stock on 25 years of progress, published in early March 2020.

The report released ahead of the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women notes that the number of out-of-school girls has dropped by 79 million in the last two decades. In fact, girls became more likely to be in secondary school than boys in just the last decade.

Changing people’s behaviours towards girls

But “access to education is not enough – we must also change people’s behaviours and attitudes towards girls. True equality will only come when all girls are safe from violence, free to exercise their rights, and are able to enjoy equal opportunities in life”, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

In 2016, for example, women and girls accounted for 70 per cent of detected trafficking victims globally, most for sexual exploitation. Around 13 million girls aged 15-19 (1 in every 20) has experienced rape in their lifetimes.

Child marriage and FGM still damage the lives of millions of girls 

Girls today are at a startling risk of violence in every space – both online and in the classroom, home and community – leading to physical, psychological and social consequences. The report notes that harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) continue to disrupt and damage the lives and potential of millions of girls globally. Each year, 12 million girls are married in childhood, and 4 million are at risk of FGM. Globally, girls aged 15-19 are as likely to justify wife-beating as boys of the same age.

Negative trends in nutrition and health

The report also points to concerning negative trends for girls in nutrition and health. The shift from traditional diets to processed, unhealthy foods has contributed to an increase in overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence. Nearly twice as many girls are overweight today (155 million) than in 1995 (75 million).

Meanwhile, the last 25 years have seen growing concerns about poor mental health fuelled in part by excessive use of digital technologies. The report notes that suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19, surpassed only by maternal conditions. Girls also remain at high risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, with 970,000 adolescent girls aged 10-19 living with HIV today compared to 740,000 girls in 1995. Adolescent girls aged 10-19 still account for around 3 in 4 new infections among adolescents worldwide.

(UN Women/ile)

Read more at UN Women website

Rural 21 Issue 3/2018: Gender equity 

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