We know that empowering women and girls makes our societies safer, healthier, greener and more prosperous. So what are we waiting for, ask the organisers of this year’s European Week of Action for Girls (EWAG).
The European Week of Action for Girls (10-14 October) is an annual week-long event which aims to ensure that girls’ empowerment is promoted and their rights are protected and fulfilled in the EU’s external action, through adequate policies, funding and programmes.
62 million. That’s how many girls are still not in school today. As a result, they are almost twice as likely as their male counterparts to be illiterate, drastically limiting their employment options in later life. Tens of millions of girls globally are still denied opportunities in education and health, facing violence, abuse and marginalisation, because they are both young and female.
But there is good news: the world has never been so aware of the challenges and discrimination faced by girls, nor so determined to fix them. By putting gender equality at its core, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has provided a perfect platform for addressing the deep-rooted discriminatory norms denying girls their right to reach their full potential.
And it is not the only framework that is working for equality between boys and girls. Ensuring the well-being of children, including girls, is already an obligation that world leaders signed up to when adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) nearly 27 years ago. Gender equality is enshrined as one of the core values in the EU founding texts, including the Lisbon Treaty, and realising the rights of all girls and women is also an obligation under the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, established 21 years ago.
The EU needs to build on these commitments, backing its policy rhetoric with concrete action and investment in gender equality. World leaders must not lose their focus: they have made gender equality central to achieving the Global Goals because they know that empowering girls and women is key to sustainable development. They know that empowered girls can become powerful agents of change in their families, communities and countries.
Study after study shows that expanding the role of girls and women in society has a positive effect on peace and security, environmental sustainability, overall public health, and economic progress. For example, we know that providing a quality, safe education to girls will have a ripple effect across all development areas. Of course, education is not the only answer. Girls must have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services, be safe from violence, have economic security, and participate in decision-making processes that affect them. Realising the full suite of girls’ rights in this way will pave the way for true development.
So what is preventing us from translating these promises into reality? The resources to deliver on them.
Girls everywhere need dedicated and consistent investment and resources if they are to reach their full potential. More than increasing the amount of money available, governments must ensure their budgets are fit for purpose. By creating new priorities within a budget, gender-sensitive budgeting ensures that girls’ and women’s needs are taken into account and adequately addressed.
It does not mean that governments should just start having specific budgets for girls, for example, but that a gender perspective should be applied at all levels of the budgetary process, so that imbalances between the situation of boys and girls, men and women can be identified and addressed. Gender-sensitive budgeting should not be underrated in its ability to tackle deep-rooted inequalities.
The EU and its member states have an important role to play in this. As the world’s largest aid donor, the way European budgets are designed and implemented has the potential to create lasting change for girls the world over. By ensuring budgets are designed, implemented and monitored according to gender-sensitive procedures and processes, the EU and its member states can lead the way in unlocking the power of the tools already at their disposal. The frameworks are powerful, but they are little more than words on paper without the resources necessary to implement them.
The upcoming mid-term review of the EU long-term budget, the multi-annual financial framework, is a perfect opportunity for the EU to show that policies and treaties are more than words on paper. It is just the moment to evaluate progress for girls thus far, to ensure that no funds are diverted away from gender equality-related programmes and that, on the contrary, a real effort is made to boost such funding, including through mainstreaming gender in the budgetary process.
Now is the time to ensure that policies and political promises are backed up with the resources required to get the job done. If the EU truly intends to implement and achieve its commitments to girls and women, then its budget must mirror that. We know that making the world a better place for girls will make a better world for us all. What are we waiting for?
This op-ed was co-written by members of the following organisations: DSW, European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development, International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, Plan International EU Office, Save the Children, World Vision, International Rescue Committee, CARE International, European Women’s Lobby, ONE.