Global Girls Summit

10 October 2018

Address by Her Majesty the Queen

Global Girls Summit

Brussels, 10 October 2018

Mesdames et Messieurs,

Chers représentants des jeunes,

Je viens de m’entretenir avec plusieurs d’entre vous pour écouter vos vues sur l’égalité des chances et des droits des filles. Et je viens d’entendre le message clair et convaincant de Rimsha. J’ai donc rencontré des adolescentes fortes, qui n’ont pas peur d’exprimer leurs opinions sur ce qui leur importe. Toutes font preuve d’une grande aptitude au leadership et savent ce qu’elles veulent !

Mais toutes les filles n’ont pas cette chance ! Les filles sont souvent moins considérées que les garçons. Pourtant, les filles et les garçons, les hommes et les femmes sont complémentaires. Nous avons besoin des unes comme des autres, à mesure égale. Nous avons besoin de mener un dialogue sur les défis que les unes et les autres doivent affronter.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

About half of the 1.2 billion 10 to 19-year-old adolescents in the world are girls.

And about one in six 15 to 19-year-old adolescent girls is married or in union. This puts girls, especially younger girls, at risk of premature pregnancy and childbirth. And that can have dangerous effects on their health and the health of their children.

I am deeply concerned about the health and well-being of adolescent girls.

Here in Belgium and when I visit other countries, I often have the opportunity to speak with young people. On a visit to India last year, I had the pleasure of meeting with young girls participating in a special program, called “Plan-It Girls”. This program aims to strengthen the voice of adolescent girls and to equip them with essential life skills. 

In a low-income neighborhood of South Delhi, I met Prithi, a 14-year-old girl. As the oldest child in her family, she has to stay home to take care of her sick father and her younger siblings. She told me that her greatest regret is that she cannot go to school. But Prithi is gaining skills through the Plan-It Girls program. This is building her confidence and will help her find a job, or perhaps set up a small business. Even her father now recognizes the large contribution she makes to the household. For the first time, she is excited about the future.

 

I also met 15-year-old Lakshmi. Her family and community do not consider her “feminine” because she excels at sports. Her mother is concerned about the reactions of the neighbors when she goes running.  Lakshmi’s family has plans to arrange her marriage next year, when she turns 16. She is worried that her husband may forbid her to continue to train. She hopes to be able to convince him otherwise, and is glad that she is learning communications skills through the Plan-It Girls program.

Girls can indeed be under enormous social pressure to conform to prevailing gender norms. In many cultures, they are brought up to believe that being a “good girl” means getting married early and taking on the roles of wife, mother and carer. But girls who marry before the age of 18, as 15 million girls do each year, face diminished opportunities for education and paid employment. They suffer reduced decision-making capacity, and increased morbidity and mortality associated with early childbearing. They are at greater risk of violence from an intimate partner, and of having mental health problems as a result of these issues.  As SDG Advocate, I have made a priority to promote greater awareness of mental health problems, including among young people. And we celebrate today World Mental Health Day. Adolescent girls are also denied access to a full range of opportunities because, in many societies, they are undervalued. They have low social status or are considered to be a burden or a commodity.

If we want to provide greater opportunity for girls, then, we must ensure that women and girls have equal access to health, education and decent work. They must also have representation in political and economic decision-making processes. This vision is enshrined in Sustainable Development Goal 5.

Because of collective efforts, girls’ enrollment in primary school has improved globally, almost reaching parity with boys’. Nevertheless, across the world, 57 million children of primary school age are still not enrolled in school — more than half in sub-Saharan Africa.

At lower and upper secondary school level, many girls disappear from the enrollment registers each year. And 98.5 million girls will probably never enroll in secondary school at all. 

Certain traditions constantly reinforce gender roles and stereotypes. So, it is critical to provide a counterpoint by unlocking the potential of girls as they make the transition to adulthood. 10-year-old girls deserve particular attention in this regard. They are at a crucial moment in life, when they are still full of a confidence that can be nurtured. Programs such as Plan-It Girls enable young girls to discover their potential. They learn to trust in themselves and to build skills that allow them to challenge the status quo.

Meisjes kunnen echter niet in hun eentje voor zo een ingrijpende verandering zorgen. We moeten moeders, vaders, broers en zussen erbij betrekken. Ook schooldirecteurs, leerkrachten en jongens moeten we meekrijgen. En we moeten ook de leden van de gemeenschap, bedrijfsleiders en lokale overheden benaderen om aandacht te krijgen voor de bijzondere situatie van meisjes en om de mentaliteiten te doen evolueren.

Het is noodzakelijk om onze systematische inspanningen voort te zetten, zowel in de publieke als in de privésector, om kansen te creëren en om te zorgen voor werkplaatsen en openbare ruimtes die veilig zijn, en die tegemoetkomen aan de verwachtingen van meisjes, zodat ze hun potentieel ten volle kunnen benutten.

Dankzij meer investeringen in meisjes zouden we inderdaad van de wereld een aangenamere plek kunnen maken voor iedereen.

Ik dank u.