The Forgotten Development Goal: Personal Reflections

Sustainable Development Goal 18: Engagement and Interest for Development Within All People. How does that sound? Why is this goal needed when we already have 17 of them? But I know that if it actually was an SDG it would already be achieved. I can confidently say so after having the honor of attending this year’s United Nation’s General Assembly (UNGA) Week in New York City.

If we take a look at the Millennium Development Goals I think that – to be honest – it was a thing created by force. The world was falling apart and our world leaders just had to figure out a solution. The result of that were a few great, optimistic, goals that we were all supposed to work on together. Where did it go wrong? How come we did not achieve the Millennium Development Goals? Of course, there were plenty of reasons. For example the lack of detailed targets and goals, the unrealistic part of achieving them and the missing piece of partnership. But the one thing I see in the new Sustainable Development Goals is interest and engagement.

When attending the UNGA week, I met all kinds of people with different ages, backgrounds, titles and careers, but still they all have one thing in common – they want to achieve the SDG’s for real. They don’t work with and fight for these goals because they have to, they do it because they really believe that these goals are necessary and that they can play a part in making them reality.

Photo Credit: Daryan Shamkali

So looking at the pretend goal number 18 – Engagement and Interest – we can lean back and be proud of ourselves. With not only a year working with the SDG’s we have already achieved what I think is the most important goal – being engaged and interested in the change-making journey. Of course, this is not the most important part when it comes to the change that is actually being made. It is much more important that we achieve goals regarding poverty, hunger, gender equality, health and education. But I think that this imaginary goal number 18 is the most necessary goal if we shall even have a chance of completing the SDG’s within 2030.

So even though this goal does not exist for real – let’s pretend it does. Because in that case we can be proud of ourselves for completing the goal that will drive us forward to achieve the rest of them. From now on – let us continue this change-making journey together, with the passion and real will of getting things done. I really do believe that the Sustainable Development Goals will be a part of the history books, showing how they really made an actual change around the world – thanks to all of the engaged and interested people driven by the passion and will of leading the way.

Featured Photo of the Girls’ Globe team in New York during UNGA week. Credit: Zayira Ray for Girls’ Globe 

A Smart Thing To Do: Data on Women in Higher Education & STEM

“When we talk about improving women’s lives, education is an issue that comes up over and over again as an equalizer, because when women and girls have access to an education, they can accomplish anything.” – United State of Women

But do all forms of education create equity where gender disparities are greatest? Although we need to work toward improving women’s and girls’ access to education on all levels, real disparities deepen in secondary and higher education environments around the world. Significant progress has been made as 2/3 of developing nations have achieved gender parity when it comes to access to primary education. Despite significant progress made on girls’ school enrollment in the past decade, 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in developing countries. The situation is worst for the poorest rural girls in South and West Asia: only 13% complete lower secondary school.

If we agree with UNICEF that educating girls is “both an intrinsic right and a critical lever to reaching other development objectives,” then advocating for a higher output of female university graduates and an equal presence of women in STEM fields should ultimately be the goal. So, why are so few women completing secondary and higher education studies and why are so few represented in STEM fields?

Adolescent girls attending secondary school, who would continue on with higher education, face many disrupting economic and social demands. This includes everything from household responsibilities, child labor, child marriage, caring for children, gender-based violence, and FGM. Challenges of marital and family obligations in secondary education years truly hinders young women’s opportunities to continue education at universities or in STEM fields. Recent estimates show that 1/3 of girls in the developing world are married before 18 and 1/3 give birth before age 20. Yet higher and secondary education helps prevent these issues: if all girls received a secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would drop by 64% from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.

In countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, formal or written threats to close girls’ schools have fueled gender motivated school attacks. In similar places, millions of young women often face verbal, physical, and sexual harassment should they aspire to study at higher learning institutions. Even those that don’t face direct physical threats are often hindered by deep social stigmas associated with women pursuing higher education. Universities in Africa continue to be male-dominated and women, especially those from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have a very low presence in these institutions.

Despite all these challenges, we know that secondary and higher education for women is:

  1. Lifesaving – If all women had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, saving 3 million lives.
  2. Healthy – If all women had a secondary education, 12 million children would be saved from stunting from malnutrition.
  3. Safe – Almost 60% fewer girls would become pregnant under 17 years in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia if they all had a secondary education.
  4. Profitable – Education narrows pay gaps between men and women. In Pakistan, women with a primary education earn only 51% what men earn, but with a secondary education, they earn 70% what men earn. In Jordan, women with a primary education earn 53% what men earn, but with a secondary education, they earn 67% what men earn. More money in the hands of female workers, especially through careers in higher paying STEM fields, boosts economies and would bolster GDPs.
The Obama Administration supports more opportunities for girls in STEM fields. Here President Barack Obama is seen with young girls participating in a coding event.

In places like the United States and the EU – women are earning more secondary education certificates and college degrees than men. But despite progress, “women still occupy only 28% of STEM jobs and comprise just 37% of STEM college graduates” in the States. Numbers of women studying STEM fields peaked in early 2000s and now we have seen a decrease in many fields since 1991. For example, women made up 30% of US computer science bachelor degrees in 1991 and in 2011 only made up 17% of computer science graduates.


In the EU, there are more women in STEM fields, but that doesn’t mean we have actually been able to remove the disparity there – just as many men are entering those fields of study and the gender gap has remained constant.


“But what’s the point of girls overcoming so many barriers to get to school if they don’t learn anything?”
– Malala Yousafzai

If we are going to work hard for girls to be in school, then let’s work to assure that they are receiving a quality education that includes secondary and tertiary studies. Let’s be sure education allows girls to feel empowered to choose whatever fields most interest them and equips them to be active in all sectors to bring about change. Our pride in global efforts to reach girls with primary school needs to be overcome as we work to build women as leaders. Anything short of a full education, means disparities will still exist if women cannot be equipped to be considered equally educated and capable to lead alongside men.

“The problem of access lies at all levels, and perhaps is often ignored at the highest levels where we desperately need women doctors, scholars, engineers, scientists and thinkers.”
– Muhammad H. Zaman 

Without higher education, women will continue to be under-represented in leadership roles in society and decision making in all sectors. UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, who launched the HeForShe movement said, “A good university is like a tiny utopia – it’s a miniature model of how the whole of society could look.” Change starts in higher education and with it women can have equal roles in business meetings, political cabinets, and research and design firms.

UN Women's HeForShe Campaign Special Event
Actress Emma Watson for the United Nations’ HeForShe campaign. Photo: UN Women.

Ultimately, pursuing higher education should never solely be about career. If it is only about career opportunities then we should clearly make vocational paths available to women and champion both sexes having equity in each. But if it is about opportunity, creativity, about including women in the processes of government, leadership, and any career field, then we need to champion higher education as a whole. Letting girls be smart, is a smart thing to do.

The percentages in the illustration refer to to following numbers and statistics:

  • If all girls had secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would fall by 64%, from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.
  • Although good progress has been made on girls’ school enrollment in the past decade, in developing countries 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school. The situation for the poorest rural girls is dire: only 13% of the poorest rural adolescent girls in South and West Asia complete lower secondary school.
  • Almost 60% fewer girls would become pregnant under 17 years in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia if they all had a secondary education.
  • In the EU-28, of all university graduates in engineering, manufacturing and construction-related studies (second most common types of degrees in the EU), only 3.9% are female.
  • 12% of women in higher education are in in sciences and engineering vs. 24% of men. ( UN Women)
  • Numbers of women in STEM fields peaked in early 2000s and now we have seen a decrease in every field since 1991. For example, women made up 30% of computer science bachelor degrees in 1991 and in 2011 only make up 17% of computer science graduates.

Featured Illustration: Elina Tuomi

Young Leaders and Johnson & Johnson Work Together to Reach Global Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require a lot of commitment and hard work, and young leaders have an essential role in making them a success. The private sector also has a big role to play, and many companies have already settled ambitious and specific plans on how to work with the SDGs. One of these companies is Johnson & Johnson – a private sector leader in advancing the health and rights of women and children around the world. For this year’s United Nations General Assembly, Johnson & Johnson invited young leaders from all over the world to inspire and lead for change.

Young leaders from Nepal, USA and Zambia speak what everyone can do to make a change in their communities and lead for a successful outcome of the SDGs by 2030.

In this next video, we get an insight into Johnson & Johnson’s plans and how companies can work efficiently and in partnership towards far-reaching goals.

Read more about Johnson & Johnson’s 2030 Promise here.

Girls’ Globe is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson to provide coverage during the Global Citizen Festival and to share the stories of the Young Leaders who are participating in the activities in New York. 

Featured photo credit: Sarah North / Girls’ Globe

Unity is Strength: Co-creating a Future for Women and Girls

A journey of thousand miles begins with one step! This month, September 2016, marks one year since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by Heads of States. While global policy agreements are key, they are no longer enough in today’s world. And sure enough, all critical actors and development partners descended in New York this week to ensure that the first step of this 15-year journey not only marks the beginning but is a sure and steady step towards changing lives lives of women and girls.

The Girls’ Globe team kicked off the week by attending the Social Good Summit, which is a two-day conference examining the impact of technology and new media on social good initiatives around the world. The summit which is held every year creates a platform to bring together a dynamic community of global leaders and grassroots activist to discuss practical solutions facing the global community. This year’s theme was aptly titled: “Connecting Today, Creating Tomorrow”, acknowledging that it is through everyday people and most importantly their networks, who have the potential to address the greatest challenges of our time.

New Solutions to Old Problems

Women and girls today have many – mainly policy and legal – improvements to be thankful for as a result of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and advocacy by civil society organisations. However, while laws have improved, this does not necessarily mean that girls’ and women’s lives have been transformed. For example, while laws against sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) may exist, at least one in three women still experience physical or sexual violence.

Infographic by: UN Women

For women’s lives to improve, alongside laws, everyone’s thoughts and behaviours have to change. One of the emerging and effective forms of addressing this is  through the use of technology and innovation. At a meeting convened By Johnson & Johnson and several others on the Role of Partnerships and Innovations for Sustainable Healthcare Solutions, different speakers spoke to the role of private sector in advancing the attainment of the SDGs. In term of opportunities available for partnership, they highlighted that the fundamental challenge the world is facing today is EFFICIENCY – how to make sure that resources go to the most needed. If this does not happen we will end up going to spend billions of dollars in loss of productivity and economic returns.

Connected Goals, Connected Solutions

One of the key milestones in the achievement for gender equality and women’s empowerment is the stand alone goal (Goal 5), which gives prominence to women’s issues as opposed to considering it a cross cutting issues as has been done in the past. Moreover, gender equality is cross cutting in other goals related to poverty, hunger, education, health, environment emphasising the inter-linkages between social, economic and environmental.

An interlinkages approach is key to ensure that progress in achieving some SDGs is not made through means that may hinder achievements in other SDGs, especially in the goals and targets related to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

These sentiments were echoed by Caroline Maposhere representing White Ribbon Alliance, “Women do not live their lives in compartments. We must secure the rights of girls and women in all the goals.”

Looking Forward

The SDGs afford a critical opportunity to dramatically expand upon progress for women and girls and increase our collective ambition for achieving gender equality. With the same mindset of urgency and partnership witnessed this week. At Girls Globe we remain committed to amplify youth voices and highlight relevant issues of women and girls form around the world through use of online technologies and social media tools. One of the more inspirational quotes I heard this week and will continue to inspire my work as a blogger going forward is,

“Social media and connectivity aren’t about connecting to technology – they’re about connecting to each other and recognising our common humanity and ability to work together.”

How Businesses Can Partner for Sustainable Development (Video Blog)

There has been much emphasis this week at the UN General Assembly on involving businesses in the Sustainable Development Goals and creating lasting partnerships with the private sector.

Below, I share some of my initial reactions and recommendations to engage businesses that are not yet partnering with efforts for sustainable development around the world. There are many businesses that are already socially conscious and entrenched in doing outstanding work by partnering to build a better world by 2030, but how can we get more companies involved?

Cover photo credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

Braver, Stronger and Smarter – Sustainable Development Goal 10

“You think we can make it?”

“We have 10 minutes and we are 6 blocks away.” 

“I think we have to run.”

“Let’s do it!”

And so two women ran the streets of New York (with tiny heels on) just to make it to the United Nations during the its 71st General Assembly.  Some things are too precious to walk towards, you just have to run even in your heels. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 10 isn’t quite focused on running in heels, but it is focused on inequalities. And women and girls face a multitude of inequalities especially within the refugee population. In spite of their perilous situations, these girls have a thirst for education and eagerly run towards it.

Women and girls need a myriad of things from love and support to opportunities and mentors. We need access to resources, quality education and initiatives that foster and highlight leaders within the family unit, the community, and society as a whole. Most importantly we need education – and by education I mean good education. The type of education that makes you think critically; it emboldens you and makes you believe you can solve any problem. Quality education will mold leaders, thinkers and advocates that are empathetic and tell you:

Think about what you think will inspire others and let’s do that!

Julia Wiklander, Founder, Girls’ Globe

Zaynab Abdi is a refugee of Somali and Yemeni descent. In a radio interview and at the Social Good Summit she told the audience about the tumultuous details of her journey to the U.S. and the various roadblocks she encountered along the way. She left her home in Yemen after the rapid deterioration in 2011, and stayed with family in Egypt. However, the conditions in Egypt were also unsteady. So, she sought refuge in the U.S. and many years later she reunited with her mother. In her interview, she discussed the need for a sense of normalcy among refugees. After experiencing so many devastating things, she just wanted to be reminded of the happy things in life.  Her happy thoughts consisted of returning to high school. Once she returned she excelled; her story is just one of many examples of refugees and displaced people seeking a small sense of hope and calm in the elements of life that we often take for granted.

According to Under Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, “this is largest wave of global displacement since WWII.” The UN High Commissioner for refugees states that we are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record which consists of 21.3 million people. This large group of diverse people may include young women and girls who are innovators, great thinkers and thought leaders; however, without access to sustained periods of quality education reaching their full potential may be deterred. “Only 1% of young refugees end up in universities, and a small percent go to secondary school,” says BBC journalist Alan Kasujja.  This is a stark and evident inequality and although the short term effects may not highlight this, the long term effects will surely spotlight the millions of people without hope. Because education is simply that when you say to yourself – if I just had the chance, the possibility, the opportunity. Hope in a classroom.

My aunt once told me something that I think every women and girl needs to hear every once in awhile:

You are braver, stronger and smarter than you think! 

Zaynab Abdi told everyone how brave she was and expressed her desire to continue her education. She reminded the audience that she had key skills and she is worth investing in.

So now it’s your turn. Remind someone today that they are braver, stronger and smarter –  they are Girls’ Globe.

Cover photo credit: India Girls Banner on Flickr