Let’s listen to girls and uphold their rights

11 October 2020


Statement by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem on the International Day of the Girl


It is every girl’s right to speak and to be heard.


Today, on the International Day of the Girl, let’s commit to listening to and lifting up girls’ voices.


Too often, their voices are silenced, in households, in schools and in the public sphere. For millions of girls around the world, silence is enforced through female genital mutilation, child marriage and other harmful practices. Not only do these practices violate a girl’s bodily integrity and autonomy, they steal her confidence and ability to make informed choices about her life.


They happen in a moment. Their consequences last a lifetime.


And they are happening right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. A study by UNFPA and partners shows that the pandemic could result in 13 million more child marriages and 2 million more cases of female genital mutilation between now and 2030, beyond the millions already expected to take place. Adolescent pregnancy is on the rise. Girls under lockdown and out of school are highly vulnerable to harm. 


With the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda as our guide, we need to do better to ensure that girls are not left behind. We cannot allow the current crisis to derail the future of an entire generation. Let’s redouble our efforts towards a gender-equal world, one where every girl has the power to make informed choices about her body and her life. Equipped with the right knowledge and skills, surrounded by a peaceful home, safe school and a nurturing community, and protected by the law and duty-bearers, she will have the tools to thrive.


As adolescent girls traverse the path from childhood to womanhood, their sexual and reproductive health and rights become even more consequential. With a newfound ability and desire to make decisions about their bodies, their lives, and their world, they are speaking up about their needs and their dreams. It is time for us to listen.

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