In 2015 – the European Year for Development – it is our responsibility as European politicians to make sure that the European Union and all EU member states ensure that gender equality, the rights of young people – especially girls – are central to discussions that will craft the new global agenda, write Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP (EPP, Finland) and Marie Arena MEP (S&D, Belgium).
Sirpa Pietikäinen and Marie Arena are Members of the European Parliament.
“There are 1.8 billion young people in the world today, the largest youth population in history. Yet the needs of many millions of young people are neglected, including their rights to education, to sexual and reproductive health, and to participate in decisions affecting them.
A new report released yesterday 18 November by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, shows how young people are key to economic and social progress in low- and middle-income countries and describes what must be done to realize their full potential. The State of World Population 2014, The Power of 1.8 Billion: Adolescents, Youth and the Transformation of the Future, also provides the latest trends and statistics on adolescent and youth populations worldwide. We are at the crucial juncture in deciding the content of the Post-2015 global development plan which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The theme and timing of this UN report is no accident; UNFPA is sending a clear message to world leaders that a focus on young people must be central to the new development framework if it is to be successful.
Adolescents and youth, those between 10 and 24 years old, accounted for 28% of the world population in 2010. Yet, the concerns and potential of young people are often overlooked. Decision-makers often do not give sufficient weight to the concerns of youth. Is this because many young people are not of a voting age? Whatever the reason, this tendency not only impacts negatively on the interests of young people but also does serious damage to economies and societies.
There has been a perception that the rights of young people were not at the forefront of the MDGs, limiting their impact on the lives of adolescent men and women and the achievement of a number of goals. The post-2015 agenda is a fresh opportunity to address this discrepancy and place the concerns of the next generation at the heart of our decision-making. We must bring attention to and investment in the capabilities of young people, specifically in the areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights, education, and training for work and life.
Focus on girls
Particular focus needs to be given to adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries. We need to support their access to quality health care and education, opportunities for quality employment, and freedom from abuses such as forced marriage and early pregnancy. Although adolescent fertility rates have fallen in recent years, 20,000 girls under age 18 still give birth in low- and middle-income countries every day. Every year, there are 70,000 adolescent deaths from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
In 2015 – the European Year for Development – it is our responsibility as European politicians to make sure that the European Union and all EU Member States ensure that gender equality, the rights of young people – especially girls – are central to discussions that will craft the new global agenda. For our part, we will push for the European Parliament to take a strong position in support of adolescent girls.
Through all of this, it is important to remember that girls have their own voices and are their own best advocates. ‘The Girl Declaration,’ a powerful statement from 508 girls living in poverty across the globe, opens with the line ‘I was not put on this earth to be invisible.’ We need to see adolescent girls embedded in the design, content, monitoring, and implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Strong and deliberate investment in adolescent girls is necessary if we are to succeed in accelerating progress on the toughest global challenges, achieve equality, advance human rights and end global poverty. The return on investment in adolescent girls is high — but so are the costs of excluding them.”