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The Power of the Adolescent Girl: FAO, UN, global community mark International Day of the Girl Child

There are nearly 600 million girls aged 10 to 19 in the world today. As the global community marks the International Day of the Girl Child this week, FAO recognizes the enormous potential of adolescent girls to transform rural communities and play their part in creating a more food secure, sustainable and equitable world.

© FAO / Giulio Napolitano
12/10/2015

The International Day of the Girl Child (Day of the Girl) is celebrated annually on October 11, and highlights the unique challenges and potential of adolescent girls. In recognition of the importance of investing in their empowerment and rights, both today and in the future, this year’s theme is “The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030.”

Along with country events around the world, a global event at UNICEF House in New York on Monday 12 October will feature a moderated forum to foster thought, discussion, and action on issues related to the theme. The forum will be followed by an exhibition and interactive showcase highlighting examples of good practice.

Rural youth, and girls in particular, are important agents for achieving food security and reducing poverty in the years to come. Yet youth in rural areas of the developing world face enormous challenges in making a living in agriculture. They often have limited access to knowledge, information and education, as well as to decent jobs, land, markets and finance. Those under 18 face additional barriers in accessing productive resources and services and in joining representative organizations due to their status as minors.

These challenges are even greater for young women, and come at a stage in their lives that is often decisive in their ability to transition out of poverty.

But lessons learned from FAO’s Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools (JFFLS), for example, illustrate what can happen when girls in rural areas have access to quality training in vocational, business and life skills. At the Bidii Junior Farmer Field and Life School in the in Kakuma Refugee camp in northern Kenya, for instance, girls aged between ten and eighteen learn agricultural, life and entrepreneurship skills in an experiential and participatory learning approach that is especially well-suited to vulnerable youth. As they attend to their plots of maturing tomatoes, cowpeas, okra, water melons and kales, they learn about crop spacing, pest management and other farming practices. The JFFLS is designed to empower vulnerable youth, and provide them with the livelihood options and gender-sensitive skills needed for long-term food security while reducing their vulnerability to destitution and risk coping strategies. “We have learned how to protect ourselves from HIV and AIDS and from sexual abuse and sexual exploitation that affects girls like us”, says Furaha Aziza, a jovial thirteen year-old from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Of course, training alone is not enough to overcome the barriers facing adolescent girls in many contexts. As young women transition out of schools, they need better access to productive resources such as land, services such as finance, organizations and markets. FAO supports its JFFLS graduates in joining cooperatives and producers’ organizations to ensure their voices are heard and they have better access to resources, services and markets.

Better and more gender-responsive policy and legislation are also important, as are investments in employment creation and the extension of labour standards to rural areas, to ensure that young women have access to quality jobs with decent working conditions—including a living wage, health and safety at work, on-the-job training and access to social protection.

If effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world – both as empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s farmers, workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders.

As the global development community begins work on the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, investing in realizing the power of adolescent girls will prove crucial. It upholds their rights today and promises a more equitable and prosperous future, one in which half of humanity is an equal partner in solving the problems of poverty, food insecurity, climate change, political conflict, economic growth, disease prevention, and global sustainability.

 

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