In the developed world, our collective strive for gender equality stems from issues like a lack of women in leadership positions, the gender pay gap, the continuation of sexual harassment in workplaces and the impenetrable glass ceiling.
They are all worthy pursuits, but they are far, far removed from what women across the rest of the world are fighting for.
In developing countries, 500,000,00 women still face daily breaches of the most basic and fundamental human rights. They’re subjected to rape, violence, child-marriage, poor health, mutilation, limited education and starvation. Year after year, this divide persists and according to new research from Plan International Australia, shows no signs of slowing down.
The report, Half a Billion Reasons, examines the gaps and issues faced by teenage girls in the developing world whilst making a clear case for greater investment as the best strategy to break intergenerational inequality. Teenage girls are the future. When they are safe, educated, and empowered this is reflected in the communities they later build.
Half a billion reasons for the Australian Government to care, but somehow they still don’t.
Plan International Australia’s CEO, Susanne Legena says Australia’s current aid and development agenda is vastly insufficient, and urges Australians to push policy change in this area. Adolescent women in developing countries have been rendered invisible; an easy (yet cowardly) status quo for the government to maintain.
“In South Sudan, a teenage girl is three times more likely to die in childbirth than complete her education. In Bangladesh, more than half of all girls are married before they turn 18. In every developing country in the world, the odds are stacked against teenage girls,” Legena says.
“Female genital mutilation, forced underage marriage, receiving less food than their brothers, being removed from school early, struggling to access birth control, trying to manage their periods without shame or disadvantage: these are just some of the things teens worldwide contend with every day.
Yet, adolescent girls are completely ignored in Australia’s aid and development program and foreign policy. They barely rate a mention in Australia’s new Foreign Policy White Paper and in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Gender Equality Strategy ‘girls’ are just an afterthought. We can do better.”
Legena and a team of activists are making this case personally today and tomorrow, meeting with a 21 MPs at Parliament House to advocate for greater consideration of this issue and necessary funding.
We’re in Canberra today to demand a greater focus on teenage girls in aid and development and foreign policy. The United States has a standalone strategy for adolescent girls, we can have one too,” she says. Further adding that “until we start to smash the barriers that hold them back, we will never make progress.”
“The majority (83%) of girls aged 10-19 in the world live in developing countries. So that’s almost all of our next female leaders, workers and mothers.
“All it takes to transform the lives of millions of girls from one of suffering and poverty to one where all girls realise their potential is investment. With the Federal election around the corner and political parties developing their commitments on aid, we want our politicians to take a stand for girls and gender equality globally.
“Australia has a crucial role to play to unlock the potential of girls. We need our government to make adolescent girls visible in Australia’s agenda on foreign policy, trade, and overseas aid and development.”
Let’s hope they listen.