On September 25th the United Nations adopted the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that reflect global ambitions to reduce inequality and create more prosperous societies. Goal #10, which aims to reduce inequality within and among countries, will not be achieved without empowering women and girls. The targets under this goal are closely related to girls and the laws and policies that affect them.

In order to ensure that the targets for the SDGs are met, where it concerns girls, one must take a look at the policies and discriminatory laws that affect this population. Two policies to take a closer look at are those that prevent adolescent mothers from re-entering school and mandatory pregnancy testing. These laws and policies explicitly discriminate against girls and do not provide equal opportunity for them to receive an education and have a positive economic outcome.

In many developing countries when a girl becomes pregnant she is expelled from school. The stigma she undergoes and the educational policies do not support her re-entry into the educational system after she has had the baby. There are a few countries, however, that have re-entry or reintegration policies that support adolescent mothers returning to school. These policies were intended to support them, but due to the stigma associated with becoming an adolescent mother many girls do not return. Most of these policies are very general, lack sound implementation and evaluation, are not properly enforced and often are not supported by educational authorities.

Also in many developing countries girls undergo mandatory pregnancy tests or medical screenings. These mandatory screenings are a way to identify those who are pregnant and subsequently expel them from school. Girls are often forced to undergo poking and prodding of breasts and other areas. These screenings are normally done without parents’ consent or knowledge. Moreover, girls are left to feel ashamed, embarrassed and afraid. There is also no support in place for girls who are identified as being pregnant or any protocols in place to address any potential trauma.

It is important that these SDGs don’t become just goals, but that they include plans at the local level that are executed to meet the target. Organizations and policy experts must take a look at these policies remove laws that discriminate against girls and adolescent mothers. Educational authorities must also evaluate and assess re-entry and reintegration policies to see if they are truly supporting the adolescent mother in the pursuit of her education. It’s pivotal that leaders bring together the different sectors that impact girls and include girls themselves in the policy development and conversations. This will ensure that the policies are truly meeting the needs of the girls. Lastly, these policies have one thing in common- they have an effect on girls’ education. It is key that educational authorities be held accountable for the proper implementation of the policies and continued success of girls.

If we are to achieve SDG 10 by 2030, local leaders and national policy makers need to account for how their decisions regarding girls’ health will affect inequality both immediately and long-term. A community will cease to prosper until preventative and supportive reproductive resources are available to girls and women.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.

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