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At Inter-Parliamentary Union conference, a call to action on adolescent girls' rights

©UNICEF Ethiopia/2009/Gudeta
Young girls welcome parliamentarians during a visit to local UNICEF-supported programmes in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the 120th meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 9 April 2009 Adolescent girls in developing countries are the world's greatest untapped resource for stability and growth. As economic actors and future mothers, safe, healthy, educated, economically empowered girls have the means to escape poverty and ignite progress.

With the right opportunities, an adolescent girl will marry later, have fewer children and invest almost 90 percent of her income back into her family. Yet today, less than half a cent of every international development dollar is spent on adolescent girls.

More than 600 parliamentarians from over 100 countries came together this week in Addis Ababa to discuss the role of parliaments in promoting global peace and security, democracy and development. Among the issues high on their agenda was the importance of investing in adolescent girls a critical strategy in the response to the impact of the global financial crisis on developing economies.

'A matter of urgency'

The parliamentarians were attending the 120th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), which brings together 155 parliaments. The IPU is a critical UNICEF partner in mobilizing MPs on behalf of the world's children.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2009/Fassil
Parliamentarians are briefed at the Kersa Malima Woreda Health Office in Addis Ababa, on a field visit organized by UNICEF.

"Addressing discrimination and promoting the well-being and empowerment of adolescent girls is not only a question of human rights and gender equality, it is also at the core of development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals," said IPU President Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, who is also Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Namibia.

"Gender-based discrimination permeates all of our societies, with no exception, and we need to address that as a matter of urgency. Among those most affected, though often forgotten and invisible, are adolescent girls. We need to make their plight visible," added Dr. Gurirab.

Disproportionate harm

In many parts of the world, girls comprise the largest percentage of children out of school and the highest number of victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and economic exploitation.

Girls are also more likely to be trafficked, to disappear or to die unknown.

Programmes that promote schooling, livelihood skills, social assets, freedom from violence, positive health-seeking behaviours and better access to sexual and reproductive health services for adolescent girls will have ripple effects across different development goals from reducing maternal mortality, poverty and HIV infection to advancing gender equality.

Growing up empowered

During the meeting in Ethiopia, MPs visited UNICEF-supported initiatives for vulnerable children and teenagers to see firsthand how securing the rights of adolescent girls can make a dramatic difference in achieving these goals.

©UNICEF Ethiopia/2009/Fassil
The head of the Kersa Malima Woreda Health Office speaks during the parliamentarians' visit.

At a primary school that boasts girl-friendly facilities and addresses critical issues for adolescent girls, such as HIV/AIDS and reproductive heath, the parliamentarians met with the principal and visited student participants in various extra-curricular activities.

The MPs also went to a community health and nutrition centre that teaches adolescent girls about preventing communicable diseases and malnutrition, and about the importance of sanitation and hygiene. And they saw how social cash-transfer programmes which provide educational support and counselling as well as cash are giving vulnerable adolescent girls a chance to grow up empowered.

With support such as this, girls can become adult citizens who contribute to the progress of their countries and fulfil their own aspirations.

Joint UNICEF-IPU panel

During a panel discussion organized by the IPU and UNICEF, which was chaired by Ethiopia's First Lady, Azeb Mesfin, MPs were reminded of their collective responsibility to change things for the more than 600 million adolescent girls who live in the developing world today.

At the panel, UNICEF Director of Programmes Dr. Nicholas Alipui noted that an "economically empowered girl can meet the challenges of poverty and ignite progress. An educated and empowered girl will be better able to take care of herself and to contribute to her community and country, both economically as an individual and as a potential mother.

"Investing in adolescent girls will not only benefit girls themselves, but society as a whole," he said.

The parliamentarians focused on three key ways to improve the lives of adolescent girls: investing in girls' education; promoting an end to violence against girls in all settings, including homes and schools; and working with governments and the private sector to build life skills for girls, thereby ensuring that they can make successful transitions from school to work.


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7 April 2009: UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on field visits by global parliamentarians to UNICEF-supported programs in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
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