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Invest in the Future: Empower Girls Now

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©UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0174/Susan Markisz
UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin's remarks at a ministerial meeting hosted by the UN Adolescent Girls Task Force during the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Good morning. On behalf of the UN Adolescent Girls Task Force, I am delighted to be with you this morning to stress the enormous power and potential of adolescent girls.

UNFPA and UNICEF are co-chairs of the Task Force, which includes ILO, UNESCO, UN Women, WHO and now UNHCR. We also partner with the UN Foundation, whose support and partnership we value immensely.

Adolescents and youth, especially girls, are at the heart of UNFPA’s agenda, and as the new Executive Director, they will be a priority. As Co-Chair of the Task Force, I am happy to reaffirm the UN’s commitment and support to empower the hardest-to-reach adolescent girls. They are the unexpected solution to many of the world’s most pressing problems, provided we join efforts to unleash their power and potential.

This morning I wish to highlight three key points.

First, investing in adolescent girls benefits everyone. When they flourish, their families and communities flourish as well. The benefits will go a long way in a girl’s lifetime, and for generations to come.

Second, we are bringing the power of the UN together to make the case for 500 million adolescent girls in the developing world to live up to their full potential. This is why the UN Adolescent Girls Task Force exists.

Third, we will all lose if their potential continues to be squandered. We must act now: Empowering girls today means a better tomorrow for all of us.

As One UN, we will support national development efforts to invest in adolescent girls’ rights, health, education, protection, livelihoods. We can no longer afford to exclude the millions of adolescent girls left behind. They are central to the MDGs and we must make them visible in national action plans and budgets. We must improve our data systems to track the change we aspire to see in their lives.

This is because investing in adolescent girls is both the best and smartest investment a country can make. Educated, healthy and skilled, she will be an active citizen in her community. She will become a mother when she is ready and invest in her future children’s health and education. She will be able to contribute fully to her society and break the cycle of poverty, one girl at a time.

Multiply this by 500 million girls in the developing world and imagine the possibilities. These girls are part of the largest youth population in history, and when they enter the workforce educated, skilled, and healthy, they can help put countries on a path to greater prosperity, peace, and progress, provided the right policies are in place.

We must act now before it is too late. Adolescence is a tumultuous time, especially for the youngest, poorest, most marginalized girls. Without the right opportunities, these girls experience too much too soon. They leave school too early; they are married off and become pregnant before they are ready, and have children while children themselves, often at significant risks to their lives. In shocking numbers, they experience violence and harmful practices, are infected by HIV at alarming rates, and join the labor force often under unsafe conditions.

The UN Adolescent Girls Task Force aims to change this. A year ago during the Commission of the Status of Women, six UN agencies committed to five key actions: (1) educate girls; (2) improve adolescent girls’ health, including their sexual and reproductive health; (3) keep adolescent girls free from violence; (4) promote adolescent girl leaders and (5) count adolescent girls, so they are no longer invisible and we can measurably see the difference to be made in their lives. And this year, I am pleased to share that UNHCR has joined the Task Force and will be signing our joint statement.

We stand strong to deliver on our commitment, especially to girls aged 10 to 14. These five actions, delivered at this critical time in their lives, will make the difference for them and generations to come.

The power of the UN is coming together for girls in Malawi, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and Liberia, with promising beginnings in others, such as Tanzania, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Nepal to name a few. Today you will hear about action on the ground in Malawi and Guatemala. As the UN, we join forces with our partners to invest in our future and advance the rights of adolescent girls now.


 

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