In an era that coined the term 'girl power' millions of girls are being condemned to a life of inequality and poverty.
It is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue and today Plan UK is launching a massive worldwide campaign, "Because I am a Girl", which aims to transform their lives.
The campaign starts with the publication of a report on the disturbing situation, pulling together global statistics highlighting the extent of female foeticide, early marriage, abuse and violence and the lack of education given to girls in the world's poorer countries.
Because I am a Girl: The State of the World's Girls, is the first in a series of global reports on girls to be published over the next nine years by Plan. Timed to be released on the United Nation's International Day of the Family, it warns that the Millennium Development Goals agreed by world leaders are likely to fail girls living in poverty.
Global statistics highlighted in the report paint a bleak picture of some of the challenges facing girls and young women growing up in the world's most impoverished regions:
- Girls aged 15-19 account for 50% of victims of sexual assault worldwide
- Birth complications and unsafe abortions are the leading cause of death for young women aged 15-19
- Seventy per cent of the 1.5 billion people living on less than a dollar a day are female
- Stunted growth in estimated 450 million women as a result of childhood malnutrition
- Approximately 7.3 million young women are living with HIV/AIDS, in comparison to 4.3 million men
- Two thirds of 15-19-year-olds newly infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are female
- Sixty two million girls are out of primary school
Plan's report, supported by several NGOs including the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), is published two months ahead of the UN's mid review of the millennium development goals. It warns six of the eight targets agreed, are currently failing girls living in poverty and the goals will be missed altogether unless world leaders adopt a tougher stance on the enforcement of international laws set up to protect girl's rights.
Children's champion Graça Machel welcomed the launch of the report today and called for world leaders to be made accountable for tackling gender inequality. She said: "This study shows our failure to make an equal, more just world has resulted in the most intolerable of situations. To discriminate on the basis of sex and gender is morally indefensible; economically, politically and socially unsupportable.
"None of the Millennium Development Goals will be achieved without gender equality. We cannot let another minute go by without acting decisively and urgently. Unless we do, we will be condemning millions of girls to a life of poverty and hardship."
Ms Machel's comments were backed by Plan's UK Chief Executive Marie Staunton who urged the international community to make the fight against gender discrimination a priority. Ms Staunton said: "Investing in girls yields real returns even to the poorest countries. World Bank Research shows that if one percent more girls have secondary education, annual per capita income growth is boosted by 0.3% on average."
Today Plan UK announces its intention to mount an eight-year drive to tackle discrimination against girls. As part of its push the agency will follow the lives of 125 baby girls living in nine developing countries as part of a cohort study on girl's rights and gender discrimination.
Published in: “Children's champion Graça Machel calls for action on girls' rights abuses,” press release, Plan, 16 July 2007.