Unlocking the potential of girls
There are 600 million adolescent girls aged 10 to 19 living in the world today and 500 million of these are in developing countries.
In Plan International Australia’s new report, Half a Billion Reasons, CEO Susanne Legena says it is critical to invest in adolescent girls to create the necessary economic and social conditions to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
However, Plan believes this group is missing from Australia’s international development strategy despite being essential to a more prosperous future in developing countries.
“The world talks about focusing on ‘women and girls’ in aid and development, but in practice investments still target adult women or younger children, and adolescent girls aged 10 to 19 fall through the gap,” Ms Legena said.
Plan argues in the report, placing adolescent girls at the centre of aid and development enables benefits that can change the course of a girl’s life and a nation’s economy, reducing her risk of poverty and inequality and unlocking the demographic dividend that can accelerate a country’s economic growth.
Health issues are a central part of the report’s focus.
Pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death for adolescent girls aged 15 to 19.
Plan believes there is overwhelming evidence that when adolescent girls have access to sexual and reproductive health information and services it can be life-saving. However Australian Government funding for family planning has halved over three years, from $46 million in 2013/14 to $23 million in 2015/16.
Australia’s geographical significance to developing countries in Half a Billion Reasons cannot be overlooked.
PNG is described as one of the most dangerous places to be a woman or girl, with sexual and physical violence having reached epidemic levels. Programs are desperately needed to address this crisis, even though PNG is one of the primary recipients of Australia’s aid and development.
Childhood marriage threatens girls’ lives and health, and it limits their future prospects. Adolescent pregnancy increases the risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth. In the Solomon Islands, 22 per cent of girls are married by the age of 18 and 3 per cent married by the age of 15.
Almost one quarter of all teenage girls in Timor-Leste will fall pregnant and have a baby by the time they are 20 years old. In addition, some 19 per cent are married by the time they are aged 19, indicating a deep stigma and shame around early pregnancy.
Education is also listed in the report as central to changing lives of adolescent girls in developing countries. The World Bank has shown that for every year an adolescent girl remains in school after age 11, her risk of unplanned pregnancy declines by 6 per cent throughout secondary school.
Adolescent girls and young women make up 76 per cent of young people around the world who are not in school, training or employment.
In PNG, Plan estimates only 18 per cent of adolescent girls attend upper secondary school. In the Solomon Islands only 22 per cent of girls attend upper secondary school despite there being 50 per cent of young women aged 15 to 24 who are unemployed.
Plan in the report has called on the Government to develop a stand-alone action plan to achieve gender equality for adolescent girls through Australia’s foreign policy, trade, aid and development.
The United States has a road map, Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, produced in 2016 to tackle the barriers that keep adolescent girls from reaching their full potential. Plan believes the Department of Foreign Affairs recently produced Foreign Policy White Paper was a missed opportunity to tackle issues faced by adolescent girls.
“Whether we are trying to empower girls to further their education, avoid child marriage, access family planning services or escape gender-based violence, we cannot improve girls’ realities without first acknowledging that their challenges and needs are unique,” Ms Legena said.
A copy of Plan’s report can be found at: https://www.plan.org.au/~/media/plan/documents/reports/girls-report-2018/full-reporthalf-a-billion-reasonsdigital.pdf?la=en