International Day of the Girl Child: My Voice, Our Equal Future

Every year on the 11th of October, the world commemorates the International Day of the Girl Child which focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights. This year marks the 12th edition since it was first celebrated in 2012, with the theme, “My Voice, Our Equal Future”. The PACT joins global communities in amplifying the voices of girls all over, to create an equal world and sustainable future for them.

Considering how HIV disproportionately affects adolescent girls globally due to vulnerabilities created by gender norms and taboos about sexuality, there is a need for countries to ensure the health and wellbeing of the girl child. These factors have a huge impact on the ability of adolescent girls to protect their health and prevent HIV, seek health services, and make their own informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and lives.

Globally, in 2019, adolescent girls accounted for all new HIV infections among adolescents, with East and Southern Africa regions standing at 83% and 78% in the West and Central African regions.[1] In sub-Saharan Africa, one out of every five new infections happens among adolescents girls and young women (AGYW) despite just being 10% of the population. In the worst-affected countries, 80% of new HIV infections among adolescents are among girls, who are up to eight times more likely to be living with HIV than adolescent boys.[2] The convergence of multiple sexual and reproductive health issues makes reaching adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) with HIV prevention particularly critical. Gender discrimination and gender-based violence stimulate the HIV epidemic even as many girls are still facing sexual violence. The low status of girls in the society and within the family, along with the tendency of men and boys to wield power, especially over their sexuality, are key factors in the high rates of violence against adolescent girls.

Adolescent girls are major targets of gender-based violence, which includes incest, sexual abuse, female genital, intimate partner violence, marital rape, early and forced marriage, mutilation, sexual exploitation and trafficking. Violence or the fear of violence can stop women and girls from negotiating safer sex, accessing HIV and sexual and reproductive health services and disclosing their HIV status to partners, family members and health providers.[3] The COVID-19 pandemic also saw a rise in sexual and gender-based violence among adolescent girls and young women across various countries. This was exacerbated by the imposed lockdowns in many countries, as a measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus

Schools can be critical avenues for reaching adolescents girls with relevant information needed to avoid HIV, however, research shows that 132 million girls are out of school globally.[4] There is a direct correlation between girls’ education and HIV risk, as study shows that uneducated girls are twice as likely to acquire HIV as those who have attended school.[5] Unfortunately, many adolescent girls in school do not receive adequate education on HIV, sex and sexuality. Research has shown that comprehensive sexuality education helps decrease number of adolescents engaging in sex at a very young age, as well as unintended adolescents pregnancies. As Deborah Mamman from Nigeria said, “an empowered girl child is a productive child, a health-seeking child, and therefore a girl who can be entrusted with the survival and wellbeing of herself and the society”, girls deserve the right to accurate and comprehensive information about their health and rights to enable them make informed decisions.

As a consortium of organizations working with adolescents and young people in the global AIDS response and employing meaningful youth participation as a key strategy, The PACT is calling on all governments to ensure equal access to comprehensive healthcare for adolescents girls, reducing age related barriers hindering access to services. Adolescent girls and young women should also be given equal opportunities and slots at decision-making spaces to ensure their voices are heard, and their issues are addressed adequately. Efforts should be made towards ending all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) and ensure adolescents girls enjoy the highest form of human rights, as agreed in various international treaties and conventions.

[1] “Adolescent HIV prevention – UNICEF DATA.” https://data.unicef.org/topic/hivaids/adolescents-young-people/. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020.

[2] “Women and girls, HIV and AIDS | Avert – Avert.org.” 23 Apr. 2020, https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-social-issues/key-affected-populations/women. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020.

[3] “Women and HIV — A spotlight on adolescent girls … – unaids.” 8 Mar. 2019, https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/documents/2019/women-and-hiv. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020.

[4] “Girls’ education | UNICEF.” https://www.unicef.org/education/girls-education. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020.

[5] “Women and girls, HIV and AIDS | Avert – Avert.org.” 23 Apr. 2020, https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-social-issues/key-affected-populations/women. Accessed 11 Oct. 2020.

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