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International Day of the Girl 2020


In order to mark the 2020 International Day of the Girl, 25 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action we reflect on progress made but also recognise the continued risks and challenges that adolescent girls face in both development and humanitarian contexts. It is imperative that donors and the international community continue to support and prioritise the needs, rights and aspirations of adolescent girls as central to the  achievement of the SDGs and ensure no one is left behind. 

Significant progress has been made to improve the lives of adolescent girls across the world over the last three decades – but the benefits have not been equally felt. Whilst many more girls, and boys, are enrolled in schools and fewer adolescent girls are becoming pregnant, there are still huge numbers of adolescent girls left behind because of who they are or where they live – whether they are from an ethnic minority or indigenous group, live with a disability, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or whether they live in rural or conflict affected areas.

Adolescence is a time of great opportunity and significant risk, especially for girls. It is a time of rapid physical and cognitive development where girls want to experience more independence and freedom, yet it is also a time when they can experience a shrinking of their world, with increasing restrictions on movement and the choices they can make. 

Investing in adolescent girls can yield a ‘triple dividend’ by impacting on her life now, her future as an adult woman, and future generations. In countries where there is a ‘youth bulge’  investing in adolescent girls can contribute to poverty reduction, reducing inequalities and transforming gender norms, through supporting girls’ education, economic empowerment, and freedom from violence. Beyond investments to enable young people’s economic contributions,  addressing the broader rights, needs and aspirations of adolescent girls is fundamental to a gender and social justice approach and critical to ensuring development gains are fairly distributed and no one is left behind. The needs and rights of adolescent girls often fall through the cracks as many interventions address either children or adult women and assume adolescent girls needs will be met within those programmes. 

Many more girls that ever before had been enrolled in primary and secondary education prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNESCO estimates that over 89% of children are currently out of school because of COVID-19 closures. We are now risk huge reversals of many of the gains of the last decades. Families facing economic hardship may find it difficult to re-prioritise girls’ education when the time comes.  Times of crisis expose adolescent girls to multiple risks. Social distancing and quarantine measures have further restricted girls’ movement, heightened household tensions and limited opportunities for income generation, which in turn exacerbates the risk of violence and sexual exploitation of adolescent girls.  Rates of early forced marriage and teenage pregnancy also increase during emergencies. These risks coupled with a de-prioritisation of comprehensive adolescent sexual and reproductive health services will have serious consequences if we do not ensure action for adolescent girls at the heart of our international development and humanitarian work. 

Key areas where investment is needed from donors include:

A holistic approach is critical to address the needs, rights and aspirations of adolescent girls.  Multi-component policies and programmes that consider the following will have most impact:  

  • Ensure girls voices, leadership and participation are at the centre of all that we do.
  • Address gender-based violence, including harmful practices, such as early marriage, FGM and sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • Ensure equitable access to health care, including to girl-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, and provide quality comprehensive sexuality education in schools.
  • Address the deep-rooted social and gender norms that still favour men and boys over women and girls, which restrict girls’ autonomy and freedom and reinforce harmful attitudes and practices.
  • Continue to prioritise primary and secondary education for girls, including transferable skills to safely and sustainably access employment opportunities and link work on women’s economic empowerment with skills building for adolescent girls.
  • Ensure intersectional analysis and data disaggregation is integrated in all work addressing adolescent girls. We need to reach adolescent girls in all their diversity, especially those groups whose voices are particularly marginalised.

SDDirect’s organisational expertise in adolescent girls programming

Social Development Direct has worked extensively in policy, programming and guidance to support and prioritise adolescent girls:

  • Providing gender and social inclusion and safeguarding expertise to FCDO’s flagship Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) Fund, the largest international fund supporting up to one million marginalised girls to enrol in school, stay in education and learn.
  • SDDirect led the inclusive education component of DFID’s ESSPIN, Nigeria, bringing a gender and social exclusion lens to education interventions we focused on the provision of support around “girl-friendly schools” and gender-responsive curricula that empowered girls and young women.
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we led a programme on adolescent girls’ and young women’s economic empowerment, La Pépinière,  and worked with a team of young women qualitative researchers to understand what works to economically empower adolescent girls and young women in the DRC.
  • Voices for Change, Nigeria targeted young women and men (aged 16 -25) as leaders and change makers. SDDirect supported the work on developing an innovative youth brand to shift social norms around violence against women and women’s leadership and decision-making.
  • We have developed a number of global resource guides on school based violence, including the UNESCO Global Guidance Note on School-Related Gender-Based Violence and DFID’s School Violence Guidance Note and produced an Adolescent Girl Resource Pack for FCDO staff working on policy and programming around adolescent girls’ empowerment, through the FCDO  Violence Against Women and Girls helpdesk
  • We have developed guidance on inclusive education in resource-constrained environments, looking at good practice on enrolling children, including adolescent girls, with disabilities into mainstream schools, creating inclusive environments in schools, identifying learning needs for girls and boys with disabilities and the use of specialist education resources.

We are market leaders in safeguarding support to organisations and programmes and disability inclusion.

SDDirect’s unique partnership with Plan International, means as all our profits contribute to Plan’s mission – to advance children’s rights and equality for girls.