OPENING REMARKS ON INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE GIRL
State Minister of Women, Children and Youth Affairs
Ladies and Gentlemen
Last December, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 11th to be the International Day of the Girl. This special day was established to recognize the rights of girls and the unique challenges they face around the world. As a former girl, thank you for allowing me to join you for today's discussion.
There are about 850 million girls, worldwide, and about 10 million of them live in Ethiopia. President Obama, who himself is the father of two girls, recently addressed the subject. He said:
The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women. If it’s educating girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. But if women are oppressed and abused and illiterate, then they’re going to fall behind.
As President Obama and other leaders know, those who seek to develop their communities and countries invest in girls. There are very good reasons for investing in girls. Girls who stay in school remain healthy and gain real skills. They are likely to marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and have the opportunity to earn an income that they can invest in their families and thereby break the cycle of poverty.
Research shows the benefits of an educated and empowered girl—not only for herself, but for her family, her community and the nation. For example:
- One extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school increases wages by 15 to 25 percent.
- When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries, on average, four years later, and has 2.2 fewer children.
- Research in developing countries has shown a consistent relationship between higher levels of schooling among mothers and better infant and child health.
- And, finally, research shows that women tend to spend a larger portion of the income under their control on goods and services that benefit their families.
Girls should be engaged in society. They should have the opportunity for friendships and mentoring so that they can participate in decision-making and be prepared to lead. They should have access to educational opportunities, and health information and services. Girls should be protected from sexual and other physical and emotional abuse. Their voices should be amplified and their active participation encouraged and supported.
Unfortunately, around the world, many girls are not given adequate support to develop as individuals and to optimize their participation and contribution to society. In too many settings, large proportions of girls do not have adequate access to education; many are encumbered by domestic work burdens; and too frequently they are married at early ages. Here are some examples:
- According to UNESCO, 62 million girls of primary school age are not in school.
- Research by the Population Council shows that girls spend more time than boys on unpaid work and care for younger siblings. These differences are substantial for those who are not in school.
- Studies by ICRW, Care and Population Council show that there are more than 60 million child brides worldwide, and 1 in 7 girls in developing countries marry before the age of 15. These young brides have limited education and economic opportunities, and they are vulnerable to health complications from giving birth before their bodies are fully developed.
- Finally, complications from early and frequent childbearing is a leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19.
This first-ever International Day of the Girl is an exciting opportunity to reach out and discuss the status of girls and the positive results that can be obtained by investing in them.
The U.S. Government works with partners around the world to support girls. I'd like to share with you a few examples of our work here in Ethiopia. In the area of education, primary schools that received support from USAID were able to admit and retain more girls than the national average. These outstanding results were achieved because of the involvement of the parent-teacher associations (PTAs) and Girls Education Advisory Committees (GEACs). USAID helped the schools organize these groups.
With the same goal in mind, USAID has agreed to support a program to help freshman girls during their first year at university by providing them with special attention, skills and advice so they are successful in making the transition to academic life and completing their university education. We conducted a pilot program with Addis Ababa University at the U.S. embassy last year and it was inspiring for those of us involved to talk to these girls about their challenges and dreams.
In the field of health, we developed a program known as “Biruh Tesfa,” which supports nearly 60,000 girls living in urban slums of 17 cities by creating safe spaces groups led by adult female mentors. Girls who participate in this program -- many of whom were child domestic workers or other destitute rural-urban migrants -- receive basic literacy, HIV and reproductive health education.
USAID has also reached out to more than 2 million community members to share health messages about harmful traditional practices such as early marriage and female genital cutting. This engagement has encouraged many families to defer or cancel early marriages. We are also expanding our support for Ethiopian efforts to end female genital cutting. These are just a few examples. We are always looking for ways to support girls and their communities in Ethiopia and encourage our development partners to do the same.
In conclusion, I would like to say how honored I am to join today's event and celebrate our commitment to girls. I am especially looking forward to hearing the stories of Ethiopian girls and learning from them how we can best help them and their sisters, cousins and friends blossom into healthy, productive and prosperous leaders of Ethiopian society.