There has been remarkable progress toward gender equality in recent decades. But millions of girls around the world remain disproportionately disadvantaged and at greater risk of violence, among other threats to their health, safety and future well-being. UNICEF's mission includes ensuring equal opportunities for girls to reach their full potential.
Adolescent girls — the innovators, artists, scientists and mentors of tomorrow
Poverty, violence and lack of opportunity disproportionately affect girls and women, preventing them from achieving their full potential. Consider:
- 750 million women and girls alive today were married before the age of 18
- women and girls spend a collective 200 million hours every day fetching water
- at least 60 percent of countries continue to discriminate against daughters’ rights to inherit land and non-land assets in either law or practice, restricting their financial independence
- some countries are estimated to lose more than $1 billion a year by failing to educate girls to the same level as boys
- violence against women is frequently normalized: nearly 40 percent of both girls and boys ages 15 to 19 surveyed consider a husband to be justified in hitting or beating his wife
The Beijing Declaration was a milestone in advancing equality and equity for women and girls
In 1995, some 30,000 women and men from nearly 200 countries met in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women. They created the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing the rights of women and girls, specifically calling on the global community to:
- eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls including in education, skills development and training, health and nutrition
- eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls
- promote and protect the rights of girls and increase awareness of their needs and potential
- eliminate the economic exploitation of child labor and protect young girls at work
- eradicate violence against girls
- promote girls' awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life
- strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of girls
The progress since the Beijing Declaration has been remarkable, but girls around the world — especially those living in rural areas, those with disabilities and those in need of humanitarian assistance — still face issues like child marriage, education inequality, gender-based violence, climate change and poor self-esteem.
UNICEF works to ensure that every girl has the opportunity to fulfill her potential
Around the world, UNICEF works with partners to ensure that every girl and woman can live free from violence, attend and complete school, choose when and whom she marries and earn equal pay for equal work.
UNICEF has identified the biggest challenges facing girls today, integrates gender empowerment across all programming sectors and strengthens institutional strategies and systems to provide solutions that help:
- End child marriage
- Advance girls' secondary education
- Promote gender-responsive adolescent health, including prevention and care for malnutrition, pregnancy, HIV and HPV
- Support menstrual health and hygiene
- Prevent and respond to gender-based violence
Program highlight: for women and girls, access to water means freedom
For many girls around the world, access to safe water and hygiene support are the foundation to freedom and equity.
UNICEF invests about $1 billion annually in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs in over 110 countries. These programs include building solar-powered water pumps for communities; supplying students with the sanitary products they need for better menstrual hygiene management; and equipping schools with private changing rooms, single-sex bathrooms and handwashing stations.
These are just some examples of how UNICEF is improving WASH for girls worldwide — helping them stay in school and avoid falling into child labor, adolescent pregnancy and forced marriage.
Learn more about UNICEF’s work in WASH.