For adolescent girls worldwide to help combat poverty, advance social justice and support economic development, they must be educated, healthy and skilled.
So said a special adviser to UNICEF who spoke on March 9 at the Sixth Annual Women’s Symposium at Fordham.
“Those of us working in the international community have learned how best to respect the rights of women and girls,” said Kimberly Gamble-Payne, child rights special adviser to UNICEF. “But we have not yet figured out how to reach girls who are on the edges of society.”
Reaching this marginalized population means facing the realities of inequality and institutionalized patterns of discrimination, said Gamble-Payne, the keynote speaker at the symposium, hosted by the Fordham Graduate School of Social Service Institute for Women and Girls.
“It means being prepared to abandon harmful practices that affect these marginalized adolescents, and to recognize that some of the worst forms of abuse have nothing to do with cultural values and everything to do with economic behavior,” she added.
The heads of six United Nations agencies signed an agreement on March 3, pledging to bolster the human rights of adolescent girls. Over the next five years, agencies such as UNICEF and UNESCO will increase support to developing countries to better empower the hardest-to-reach adolescent girls, particularly those aged 10 to 14.
Many of the 600 million adolescent girls living in developing countries are cut off from national policies and programs. Millions live in poverty, are burdened by inequality and are subject to violence, abuse and exploitation, such as child labor, child marriage and other harmful practices.
“It’s very difficult to advocate for something that you cannot measure,” Gamble-Payne said. “We have to find a better way to count them.”
The six U.N. agencies will work with government, civil society and communities to:
• educate adolescent girls by ensuring they have access to quality education and complete schooling;
• improve adolescent girls’ health;
• keep adolescent girls free from violence;
• promote adolescent girl leaders; and
• count adolescent girls.
The intra-agency agreement comes 15 years after the Beijing Platform for Action, which was adopted in Beijing, China, at the fourth United Nations World Conference on Women.
The internationally agreed-upon plan for achieving equality for women across 12 critical areas remains a focus for the U.N. agencies, Gamble-Payne said. Those areas include:
• education and training,
• armed conflict,
• power and decision-making,
• advancement of women,
• human rights,
• environment, and
• the girl child.
“Reaching marginalized girls and helping them get educated and healthy means they will stay in school, marry later, delay childbearing, have healthier children and earn better incomes that will benefit themselves, their families, communities and nations,” she said.
The symposium also included a panel discussion with Ellen Silber, Ph.D., the director of the Mentoring Latinas program; Elizabeth Thomas, a program coordinator with the Brooklyn Young Mothers’ Collective; and Cynthia Martinez, an outreach worker with the Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS).