On October 11, the U.S. Department of State joins the global community in recognizing by reinforcing our commitment to supporting girls’ rights and empowerment around the world. This year’s theme – “Digital generation. Our generation.” – could not be more relevant.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic threatens to further reverse the decades of hard-won gains for girls from stemming malnutrition and increasing access to sexual and reproductive health to access to education and well-paying jobs– all with long-term consequences. At the same time, the pandemic has also accelerated the adoption and use of technology for education, work, and social involvement across the world. Despite such connectivity being critical to the most basic of human interactions, the gender digital divide remains stark, with .
The whose education may not resume after pandemic-related disruptions are likely to face higher risks of adolescent pregnancy; HIV/AIDS; child, early, and forced marriages; and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV), threatening their advancement. Moreover, the expanded use of digital technologies also poses increased risks of online harassment and abuse, markedly for girls, who comprise of those featured in online sexually exploitative materials.
Developing the women leaders of tomorrow requires advancing girls’ access to education, safety, and healthcare today. The harmful gender norms that perpetuate these realities are the same that keep women locked out of negotiating rooms, marketplaces, and political institutions.
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to advancing gender equity and equality as a whole-of-government priority cemented in . The United States is dedicated to advancing girls’ human rights by investing in their growth and addressing the significant barriers and access challenges they face. This work will be supported by a the United States was proud to make at the .
In alignment with these priorities, the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) supports diplomatic engagement and assistance programs that support the empowerment of girls – in all their diversity – around the world. One such program is which uses a global “Gender and My Community” curriculum along with Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) education to build economic empowerment skills and prevent GBV, including forms of GBV disproportionately impacting girls such as female genital mutilation/cutting and child, early, and forced marriage. From Africa and the Middle East to Europe, Central Asia, and the Western Hemisphere, SHE’s GREAT! brings together all children to recognize gender inequality in their families and communities.
In Georgia, Mariam, a SHE’s GREAT! participant, reflected on her experience, sharing:
“With the help of [Gender and My Community] sessions, I have received a lot of useful information, and understand the meaning of different gender terminologies. Almost every day I’m confronted with the gender inequalities that are prevalent in society.
…I often discuss gender equality issues with my friend. In particular, we talk about existing restrictions that society imposes on both women and men, and we try to come up with possible solutions. In the past, when I witnessed examples of sexism, I was simply silent because I thought it was his/her opinion and there was no point to argue, but today I can participate in debates and provide many examples demonstrating that socio-cultural norms define psychology, profession, or choice of clothing of a certain person, but not biological sex.
From childhood, I wanted to become a politician, but my family and relatives did not support me. I usually heard negative opinions in this regard which really affected my motivation. However, after becoming a part of [the] SHE’s GREAT! global network, I understood that such opinions should not affect my decision and aspirations. Today, these negative attitudes motivate me to show my family and society that I can become a woman politician who will make great and profound changes for Georgia’s development.”
SHE’s GREAT! has also inspired other girls to use design thinking to create solutions for preventing GBV and increasing gender equity in their communities. In Benin, 14-year-old Lisa and 15-year-old Marie Claire began leading coding trainings for their peers after participating in SHE’s GREAT! In the Kyrgyz Republic, SHE’s GREAT! Learning Festival participants proposed the creation of a mobile app – “Girls Development” – to be a safe space for girls to share their dreams, aspirations, and concerns and build their knowledge of higher education opportunities, language studies, and self-care.
Across the Department of State, initiatives like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) DREAMS partnership and Women in Science (WiSci) also support girls’ and young women’s exposure to STEAM disciplines and careers. In Kenya, DREAMS works with young women to provide a safe space to develop coding skills as part of their broader efforts to provide comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention services, along with health services, violence prevention, economic strengthening, and community mobilization and norms change interventions for gender equality. WiSci, led by the Office of Global Partnerships (E/GP), hosts camps that deliver partner-led STEAM, leadership, and empowerment curricula to inspire and support teenage girls interested in higher education and careers in these fields. The WiSci partnership, which includes the UN Foundation’s Girl Up, Intel, and Caterpillar, will collaborate with the U.S. Embassies in Panama and Costa Rica to produce a virtual camp in Central America in January. All of these efforts are critical for bridging gaps in access, education, and skills and for furthering girls’ leadership and empowerment around the world.
When we all insist on equitable access to resources, education, and opportunities, there is nothing girls cannot do. As we work to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to champion girls’ rights and invest in their futures to ensure their safety, education, and leadership – online and offline –in pursuit of a more inclusive, prosperous future for us all.
About the Author: Linsey Armstrong serves as a grants & outreach analyst in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.