Girls – leading from the front for their future

Statement by Ms Sima Bahous, UN Women Executive Director for the International Day of the Girl Child

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the International Day of the Girl Child, a day dedicated to celebrating adolescent girl leaders, in all their diversity. This year’s theme, “Our time is now – our rights, our future”, reflects their tenacity to drive change as transformative feminist leaders – right now.

In the past ten years I have seen girls’ interests and influence rise in global agendas and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Whether in climate, education, mental wellbeing, gender-based violence, or sexual and reproductive health and rights, girls are propelling themselves forward as leaders, advocates and changemakers. Their activism in feminist movements and mobilization for gender equality, including Generation Equality, are a key part of shaping positive, grounded action in their local communities and globally.

Yet while there has been progress, substantial challenges remain.  In fact, based on current rates of progress UN Women estimates that women and girls will not achieve full equality with men and boys for another 300 years. Education that truly equips students for the future is critical to breaking this trend, building agency, equality, voice and power for the world’s women and girls. SDGs 4 and 5 work hand in hand. Yet poverty, cultural norms and practices, poor infrastructure, violence, and fragility continue to raise barriers. Investment in the implementation of girls’ rights remains inadequate, contributing to short-term, siloed approaches that ultimately disadvantage adolescents.

Meeting these challenges in a world where the risks for girls are more acute than ever, requires all stakeholders to take concerted, robust action. We need disaggregated age and gender-based data to inform policies that directly impact the lives of girls.  We need sustainable, well targeted resourcing to those most affected, to ensure safe, healthy, educated, and powerful adolescent girls worldwide.

I envision a world where the agency and leadership of adolescent girls is recognized; they live in full enjoyment of their rights; free of violence and discrimination; as equal leaders and members of societies and communities. 

On this International Day of the Girl Child, let us continue our collective work to achieve this and to advance the objectives of Our Common Agenda.  Girls can and must lead from the front, never being left out or left behind.  This decade of acceleration must prioritize girls in all their diversity. Now is their time, their rights, their future.