International Day of Girls
Today is the International Day of Girls. A day to raise awareness for the unequal treatment a lot of girls still face based on their gender. We at CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality believe girls are vital in the realization of a world where everyone can enjoy sexual and reproductive health and rights. Ultimately, we want a world where women and girls are equal to everyone. But before we get there, there’s still some things that need to change.
Child marriage and pregnancies
We want a world where girls are free to choose who they’ll marry and when, and also to be able to decide when and if to have children and, importantly, with whoever they want. Sadly, this is not the case yet. Nearly 70 million girls in the world are affected by child marriages. That means that 70 million girls get married before the age of 18. In fact, in developing countries, one in three girls is married before the age of 18. Often these marriages don’t happen because the girls wanted them to happen and have a huge impact on their futures. Girls who get married young aren’t able to finish their school and don’t have the economic opportunities they might have had if they did not get married at such a young age.
Getting married at a young age often means having children at a very young age too. 7.3 million teenage girls in developing countries become pregnant every year. Getting pregnant at such a young age doesn’t come without risk either. Right now, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes of death among girls aged 15 to 19 years old. Especially today, on the International Day of Girls it's important to remind ourselves of the impact unwanted child marriages and pregnancies have on the lives of girls.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting
But it’s not just child marriage and teen pregnancies that affect young girls. More than 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting every year. Female genital mutilation/cutting (also referred to as FGM/C) is an umbrella term. It's used for different procedures that range from cutting, removing, or sewing closed all or part of the vulva for non-medical reasons. These procedures lead to mental and physical trauma when they're done without the consent of the girls involved.
However, we at CHOICE find it important to be aware of the context in which female genital mutilation/cutting takes place: the way women experience their circumcision varies. It’s not up to us to tell girls and women they are victims. Just like with getting married and having kids, we want girls all over the world to be able to chose what happens to their bodies. It’s her body, her choice.
Yes, I do want a world free of child marriage, teenage pregnancy and FGM/C
We are part of the Yes I do Alliance together with our partners Plan Netherlands (lead organization), AMREF Netherlands, Rutgers and the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT). In cooporation with our local partners in Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Ethiopia and Pakistan CHOICE tries to get girls and boys meaningfully engaged in sexual and reproductive rights and health. Together we’re working towards a world where girls can decide over their bodies and, ultimately, their futures.
Do you want to know more about what we do for young girls? Beside our Yes I Do-program we work on several other programs that tackle issues that affect young people including girls.
Cover photo credit: Jeroen van Loon