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Girls and Young Women

One of the most important tasks of youth policy is to improve the situation of young women. Girls are often treated as inferior and socialized to put themselves last, further undermining their self-esteem. Discrimination and neglect in childhood can initiate a lifelong downward spiral of deprivation and exclusion from society. Existing gender inequalities are perpetuated by negative cultural attitudes and practices. Gender biased educational processes, including curricula, educational materials, teachers’ attitudes, inadequate sanitation facilities and classroom interaction further reinforce the status quo.

"I believe in a world of justice and human rights for all. A world where girls can grow up free of fear of abuse. A world where women are treated with the respect and dignity that is their right. A world where poverty is not acceptable. My dear young friends, you can make this your world." Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – remarks to UNA-USA Model United Nations Conference, 13 May 2010

Educating girls offers extraordinary social and economic benefits to current and future generations. Yet, in many developing countries, poverty and the belief that cultivating a boy's mind is more important than educating a girl work hand in hand to keep girls out of school.

Geetha, the youngest child in a poor family living in rural India, can barely read or write. She was pulled out of school because her father thought her time would be better spent looking after the family’s goats and doing the housework.

When her teacher tried to persuade her father to allow her return to school, he argued "This is the way it has always been, and it will not change, I didn’t study myself. We are simple people." Government incentives in the form of books, scholarships, uniforms and even meals made no difference. A life-long struggle to survive, marked by poverty and ignorance, has solidified their views.

A young Timorese girl at the Motael Camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), Dili, Timor-Leste.

A young Timorese girl at the Motael Camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), Dili, Timor-Leste.

The boys in the village attend school everyday. They pass by Geetha who walks alongside her goats on the dried out narrow country road. "The boys tease me" she says, her big eyes full of sadness "and I tell them, go, go, go to school". She wished she could go with them. "When I was younger I thought, I’d study well and get a job. I really wanted to be a teacher. Now I just follow the goats."

Geetha has little hope for her own future. Like her mother, and her grandmother, she will spend her life working in the fields and around the house. She has seen the value of education however and has a different dream for her own children. "I will let my children study" she vows.

Perhaps though, it is not too late for her. Many girls in India start school at a later age and with support from programmes organized by the Indian Government and international and local institutions, she may yet one day join the boys on their daily walk to school.