‘All girls count,’ says UN, calling for reliable data to uncover and tackle inequalities holding them back

In South Sudan, girls carry water for their families. Photo: UNICEF/Alissa Everett

11 October 2016 – Girls are the sometimes-hidden change-makers of the present and future, and to make sure their voices are heard, the United Nations is marking the International Day of the Girl Child by calling on governments, civil society groups, and communities to provide more and better gender data to so that in the sustainable development era, no girls are left behind.

“The wellbeing, human rights and empowerment of the world’s 1.1 billion girls are central to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. When we agreed on that agenda, we promised girls quality education and health services,” said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his message on the Day, which this year tackle the theme Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: A Global Data Movement.

Noting that the theme is based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Mr. Ban recalled that when adopting those targets last year, the world had committed to ending discrimination and violence against girls, and harmful practices like child marriage. “We pledged to leave no one behind,” he said.

Yet, too often, in villages, shanty towns and refugee camps around the world, girls are the ones left behind: without nutritious food, healthcare or quality education, and at risk of sexual violence. AS such, the UN chief said that investing in girls is both the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do.

“But what cannot be measured cannot be managed. If we do not gather the data we need, we will never know if we are delivering on our promises, he said, calling for efforts to make sure agreed global initiatives are all girls – from those living in extreme poverty to those living with disabilities or those who are refugees or displaced within their own countries.

“Timely, high-quality data is vital so that we know where we are meeting our promises, and where we are falling behind. Let us all work hard to make sure we count all girls, because all girls count,” said the Secretary-General.

In her statement on the Day, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka stressed that without progress for girls, there can be no real progress on our global commitments to justice and prosperity. “To know what they want and need, we need accurate, reliable, transparent and comparable gender data,” she stressed, noting for example that adolescent girls may share many of the same risks to their health and rights as their younger siblings or older women, but the challenges that they face are sometimes more acute, partly because they are not visible.

With this in mind, she said UN Women is working both on gathering this information, and on building an integrated evidence-base that can help remove the structural barriers to increasing economic empowerment. Last month during the high-level segment of the UN General Assembly, the entity launched the new public-private initiative Making Every Woman and Girl Count.

“Over the next five years, this $65 million initiative will increase the production of gender-sensitive data and ensure the results are used to shape policies and increase accountability. Working with our partners, we are supporting countries to strengthen national capacity and systems to collect, analyze and disseminate gender data to improve statistics on priority issues for girls,” Ms. Mlambo Ngcuka said.

According the UN, only through explicit focus on collecting and analyzing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data, and using these data to inform key policy and program decisions, can societies adequately measure and understand the opportunities and challenges girls face, and identify and track progress towards solutions to their most pressing problems.

Yet fewer than 50 countries are able to provide data that is disaggregated by both sex and age, making it difficult to assess poverty, inter-partner violence and adolescent maternal deaths, among other important information. Without this data, girls’ challenges will remain hidden in silence and their potential will not be realized.

It is no wonder, then, that girls like Susmita, a teenager from Odisha, India who has never gone to school wonder: “Is anyone out there even thinking of improving our lives?”

UN Population Fund Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin underscored: “Investing in adolescent girls, like Susmita, allows them to stay in school, gain skills, marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and earn a larger income to invest back into their families and communities. These investments must be driven and informed by high-quality data for maximum impact and results, and to track progress. This is particularly important for identifying and tackling the needs of the most marginalized girls – those about whom we often know the least.”

“As we work together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we must acknowledge that our collective success is directly dependent on how we answer Susmita’s question,” he stated, adding that: “Now is the time to fully exploit the power of data as one of the most critical tools for development and for protecting and promoting adolescent girls’ rights.”

The State of World Population report will be launched by UNFPA later this month in order to examine “how the support we provide adolescent girls today will determine our collective well-being tomorrow,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin in his message on the Day.


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