Secretary of State
Adolescence can be a time of great promise, but for too many girls it is when choices vanish and doors slam shut – when they are forced to leave school, endure gender-based violence, or marry and bear children before they are ready, risking their health and their lives. In the developing world, one out of three girls is married before she turns 18. One in nine is married by age 15. Maternal mortality is a leading cause of death for adolescent girls in poor countries, and in sub-Saharan Africa, girls are three times more likely than boys to contract HIV/AIDS.
Allowing girls to grow up, finish school, and reach their full potential is not only a matter of justice and equality. It is crucial to the prosperity of societies – to reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and building a better world. Educated girls earn more, their children are healthier and more productive, and their communities and nations better able to emerge from poverty and live in peace.
This March, the Obama Administration was proud to launch the first “U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls,” and to become the first nation to produce a plan whose sole focus is the protection and advancement of adolescent girls.
Adolescent girls everywhere should have the power to make informed decisions about their lives. All girls, including those who are married and have children, should have the right to pursue an education and finish secondary school. Accomplishing this will require new laws and incentives to make education safe, free, and compulsory, and keep girls enrolled. Adolescents also need access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and education, and protection from harmful practices like child, early, and forced marriage, so-called “honor” killings, and female genital mutilation/cutting.
In this effort, both basic decency and common sense are on our side. Discrimination against women and girls is not only wrong but self-defeating. And as more and more governments recognize this, the world will become a better place, not just for those nations but for all of us.