October 11, 2016
On October 11, the world celebrates the International Day of the Girl Child. As we enter the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) era, we are already thinking of how to measure progress against these goals, while continuing to empower young women and girls. Promoting good health and well-being is central to many of these goals. Yet, despite the strides we have made in global health over the last 50 years in terms of saving lives and increasing access to basic services, many countries still lag behind. In this changing landscape, the girl child is particularly vulnerable, especially if she lives in rural areas or in countries plagued by conflict.
In the last decade, forced marriage of girls and young women has affected approximately 58 million girls, many of whom were married against their will and in violation of international laws. In the developing world, one in seven girls is married before her 15th birthday with some brides as young as 8 or 9. Married girls are less likely to finish school, less able to space out their pregnancies in a safe and timely manner, and are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections like HIV. At least 120 million girls and women have undergone the practice of female genital mutilation in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where this practice persists.
Yet there is cause for optimism. While adolescence is a time of great vulnerability for girls, it is also an ideal point to leverage development efforts (PDF 2,463 KB). It is an opportunity to prevent poverty from becoming a permanent condition that is passed from one generation to the next.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supports and advances the health and well-being of girls and young women around the world by:
- Working collaboratively to improve health data and track progress against the SDGs. This includes an emphasis on disaggregating data by sex and age.
- Accelerating progress toward the elimination of neglected tropical diseases.
- Improving the nutrition of mothers and children.
- When households and communities achieve high levels of education, there is evidence that they have stronger health outcomes. Increasing adolescent girls’ access to education by reducing the barriers that hinder their educational attainment contributes to saving and improving lives.
- Expanding access to voluntary family planning information and services.
- Supporting the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS)partnership and its use of data to identify countries where adolescent girls and young women are disproportionately at risk for HIV.
- Reducing barriers to reproductive health, such as gender-based violence, female genital mutilation/cutting (PDF 704 KB) and child, early, and forced marriage.
- Training women to protect their communities against malaria.
- Improving the health and well-being of children living with and affected by HIV through USAID’s Orphans and Vulnerable Children program.