On Wednesday 21st of March, a Joint Statement on the importance of strengthening policy, programming and evidence to enhance adolescent girls’ capabilities, was presented on behalf of the GAGE consortium by IRC Policy Officer, Natalie Armitage, to the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women in New York. The GAGE consortium INGO group, which includes Care International, Girls Not Brides, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Pathfinder, Plan International UK, Save the Children and World Vision, collaborated over several months to agree on final text. It is important to note that this is the first time that this number of INGOs leading on work with adolescents have come together and made a call, using shared and agreed language, for better evidence, data, improved policies and programmes and increased investment on adolescents. We look forward to building on this spirit of energy and collaboration going forward…
JOINT STATEMENT AT THE 62ND SESSION OF THE COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN (CSW)
We, Care International, Girls Not Brides, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Pathfinder International, Plan International UK, Save the Children UK, World Vision UK, and members of the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) Consortium, call on Member States, the United Nations and Civil Society Organisations to focus their attention of the specific needs of adolescent girls and boys, in the context of gender equality more broadly, in both rural and urban settings.
Why focus on the second decade? Through our programming and research work, we know that adolescence is a critical time for growth and exploration with a powerful and lasting impact on children’s capabilities. Adolescence is an important time to sustain the gains made in childhood and to also ensure young people obtain the knowledge and skills for a healthy and empowered adolescence that carries them into healthy and empowered adulthood and beyond. As GAGE we focus on adolescent girls and boys, but forefront girls – a girl often reaches adolescence having already experienced exclusion and inequality – potentially born into a cycle of poverty, subject to discriminatory social norms that set expectations for her behavior based on her gender and with her concerns invisible to too many policy makers. The unequal gender norms that have shaped her life since early childhood are exacerbated in adolescence – defining how she is valued, how she is expected to behave, what she needs to learn and what her role will be in the future. Adolescence is a time during which gendered social norms for girls’ and boys’ behaviour become increasingly influential, and often result in girls facing increasing violence, discrimination and restrictions on their mobility and behaviours, including barriers to accessing education and sexual and reproductive health information and services that become particularly necessary in this period.
We remind Member States, the United Nations and other Civil Society Organisations that adolescence represents a very important and unique opportunity to reap a possible triple dividend for adolescents now, for their adult trajectories and for the development of their own children (should they wish to have them). We want to highlight that interventions designed with and for adolescents can accelerate progress against the effects of poverty, inequality and discrimination, and foster positive development trajectories that capitalise on young people’s assets and opportunities and support protective factors that mitigate risk and promote resilience. Tackling the vulnerabilities adolescents face is a necessary part of ensuring that we Leave No One Behind and target, in our programmes and policies, those who are most marginalised and experience disadvantage as a result of this. Adolescent girls and boys – including those with disabilities, from ethnic minority groups, from displaced and refugee communities, those living in rural and urban settings, those girls who are married or child mothers, including adolescents living in informal settlements and slums – need specific and tailored solutions to the challenges they face. These solutions should not be fragmented or piecemeal, but rather speak to each other more systematically to address all unique needs of adolescent girls and boys.
Governments must also ensure they fulfil their obligations towards all rights-holders. International human rights standards require that governments take positive steps to ensure that the most marginalised are able to realise their human rights. We call on Member States and Civil Society Organisations to join us in our efforts to advance gender equality and empower adolescents in the following six areas:
- Invest in Education and Learning: Efforts should address questions of access and quality, with a focus on ensuring transitions to and complete quality secondary school—which is where most girls are lost. Opportunities for quality learning should not be restricted by gender or other type of identity or marginalization, but instead, should be designed in a way that meets each learner’s needs, and best prepares them for the changing nature of the world around them through the integration of adaptable skills, including provision of accurate information.
- Protect adolescents’ bodily integrity and freedom from violence: Provide adolescents with freedom and protection from gender-based violence, including child, early and forced marriage, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and cutting, sexual violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse, harassment, and other forms of coercion. Gender-based violence can have intergenerational impacts by not only affecting girls’ well-being, but also harming their future children’s health and increasing the perception of violence as acceptable and normal. Children that witness violence are twice as likely to perpetuate violence as adults. We want to draw attention to the close connection between violence experienced and witnessed as a child, and GBV experiences as a teenager or adult.
- Improve all domains of adolescent health, including nutrition and access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR): Systematic discrimination on the basis of gender and harmful practices or behaviours which manifest as acts of sexual and gender-based violence contribute to poor physical and sexual and reproductive health outcomes for adolescent girls. We must ensure the gains we make in childhood investments are sustained in adolescence – especially with regard to nutrition, and the essential need for and opportunity to instill positive health behaviors and practices through more adolescent responsive health systems. Additionally, the fulfilment of the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents, including family planning counselling and supplies and access to comprehensive reproductive health information and services, is inextricably linked to the promotion of gender equality. We must also consider the information, supplies, services and support needed for adolescent girls to manage menstruation and protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy.
- Take measures to improve adolescent psychosocial well-being: psychosocial illbeing and mental illhealth is one of the most ignored areas of adolescent health despite worrying rates of suicide and self harm, particularly among girls 15-19 years of age. Adolescence is a time of heightened psychosocial vulnerability, which is especially exacerbated at times of conflict and crisis. Programming efforts must consider how they contribute to promoting adolescent girls’ and boys’ sense of self and ability to set their own goals and demonstrate resilience in the face of setbacks and also address mental health and psychsocial support needs.
- Foster adolescents’ voice and agency: we must consider how adolescents can meaningfully participate – and have their participation be taken seriously – in household, school and community life decisions, preparing them for their participation in political and public life. Investment in the creation of dedicated girls’ programming and girls-only safe spaces has proven effective in helping girls build support networks, foster a strong sense of value and worth, learn how to stay safe and healthy, and connect with critical support services, including health, education, and protection services.
- Promote economic empowerment: supporting adolescents to develop the financial literacy, education and vocational skill sets needed to prepare them for the labour market and helping them to access and maintain, in an age-appropriate manner, credit and control over their own incomes, is also key.
We call on you, Member States, the entities of the United Nations and Civil Society Organisations to adopt a holistic whole community, whole adolescent approach working together with women and girls, men and boys to tackle discriminatory norms, promote gender equality and ensure that
- You invest in adolescents – in programmes and policies that speak to their specific contextualised needs and which prioritize meaningful engagement and partnerships with adolescents themselves.
- You adopt and implement policies designed to empower and protect adolescents during this particularly vulnerable stage of life, recognising the opportunities that can open up for adolescents should we focus on them.
- You design integrated multisectoral programmes that recognise the particular needs of adolescent girls and boys in different settings, paying attention to the programme combinations and sequencing that are evidence-based.
- You collect sex, age and disability disaggregated data and ensure programmes and policies are monitored, evaluated and improved, contributing to a greater global evidence base and in turn better future interventions.
In so doing, we encourage you to consider scaling up the different strategies evidence shows work, including by engaging men and boys in shifting gender inequitable attitudes and behaviours; supporting families in valuing girls and fostering their healthy development; promoting positive community social norms; and strengthening education, health, employment, child protection and other services and systems to specifically address adolescent girls’ unique needs.
The focus on investment, policies, programming and monitoring should be context dependent – looking at community contexts, including considering urban vs rural settings, socio-cultural and religious traditions and norms, as well as state level contextual factors, including fragile and insecure contexts which are proven to exacerbate the vulnerabilities and risks adolescent girls face in more stable and peaceful contexts. We urge you to develop these policies and programmes in partnership with adolescents, bringing their voices and views to to bear on the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of such initiatives.
We remind you that the success of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals depends on how 1.2 billion adolescents, aged 10-19, navigate this crucial life stage. As adolescent girls, in particular, face additional barriers due to pervasive gender inequality and their age, we urge you to place them at the heart of your investments, policies and programmes – and that you gather, analyse, absorb and act on the data and evidence that will enable us to measure the progress we have collectively made with respect to them.
This is a comprehensive community statement, but signatories may not agree with every aspect of the statement. Some signatories have signed on to show unity in the areas where our organisations do agree, which is the majority of the statement.
View the video of the oral statement reading: https://edgepicture.wistia.com/medias/883qfxeudx