This post was authored by Allison Pfotzer and Dinnah Nabwire on behalf of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls.
During the United Nations General Assembly’s 70th session in September 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were signed and the global development agenda was set for the next fifteen years. Members of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls (CAG) worked to ensure that the SDGs adequately address adolescent girls’ needs and the challenges they face in contributing to sustainable development.
Today there are over 1.8 billion young people (ages 10-24 years) globally, 50% of whom are female. Every day 37,000 girls are married off as child brides, while 225 million wish to delay or prevent pregnancy but cannot. It is projected that 15 million girls between the ages of 15-19 will undergo female genital mutilation by 2030. Adolescent girls are also the only demographic experiencing increasing rates of HIV infection and an increasing risk of suicide, both serious challenges to the SDGs. The following four key recommendations illustrate how to leverage the SDGs to affect real change in the lives of adolescent girls.
1) Ask girls what they need and listen to what they say
To create change through effective girl-centered programing, we must respectfully consult with girls and then act on behalf of their responses. A huge part of this is finding and asking girls directly, which means engaging girls consistently—wherever they are. Girls are often severely isolated and implementing entities need to conduct strategic efforts around identification and engagement so that the voices of the most hidden and vulnerable girls are included. The Girl Roster Tool and the Partners and Allies Toolkit for Meaningful Adolescent Girl Engagement outline strategies for locating and engaging girls so as to create more effective programs, projects, policies, and research.
2) Mobilize financing for girl-centered investments
Sustainable and inclusive global partnerships to finance the achievement of the SDGs allow us to implement evidence-based programs and services, collect meaningful data, evaluate our efforts, and better address the actual problems of girls’ globally. The work of the CAG and its partners is essential and must be adequately resourced so that we can use our tools and expertise to directly transform girls’ lives.
3) Collaborate and communicate
A key part of achieving these goals is the inclusion of diverse voices from policy-makers, development actors, and community members – especially girls themselves. Too long have adolescent girls been left out of conversations about their needs. Examples of inclusion can be seen in Marie Stopes International’s campaign titled Make Women Matter, which sought to consolidate global commitment for reproductive choice and rights to improve the lives of women by 2030. Another NGO, Advocates for Youth, developed a Girl Engagement Advisory Board, composed of ten girls ages 15-20, which works closely with advocates to directly engage girls, elevate their voices globally, and provide direct feedback on girls’ current needs and issues.
4) Measure progress for all those affected, especially adolescent girls
We must continuously assess the progress made on each development goal and target. Translating the SDGs to action on local and community levels is key to addressing the specific and unique needs of girls. For instance, Goal 6 addresses clean water and sanitation. While this goal isn’t directly for girls, it addresses the need for private, safe, and clean school facilities where girls can manage their menstrual hygiene and other personal needs. Quantitative and qualitative tracking of Goal 6 that is sensitive to girls’ needs enables the development community to make evidence-based decisions and affect measurable change in the lives of girls. (A collaborative document by the Girl Declaration Joint Advocacy Group and the CAG shows how to ensure that indicators for each goal and target are inclusive of adolescent girls.)
The SDGs provide an opportunity for development partners to innovate on past experience by adopting a “whole girl” approach. An integrated approach acknowledges the interconnected complexity of girls’ realities and offers a better chance for them to receive the services and support they need to fulfill their potential. The 2030 SDGs finally—formally—took note of girls. But for formality to become reality, we must listen to girls, provide resources and partnerships to the groups engaging girls in their programming, measure our results, and act from those measurements in concise and connected ways.
Featured Image: Coalition for Adolescent Girls