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International Day of the Girl Child Online Conference: “Being an Adolescent Girl in a Changing World” İstanbul, Turkey, October, 11, 2020

United Nations declared the International Day of the Girl Child to recognize girls as agents for social change, to promote their empowerment and rights and to advocate for gender inequality all over the world. UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women and the Aydın Doğan Foundation are the lead organizations to mark this significant day in Turkey to support global and national efforts to create a world free from discrimination, exclusion, and violence against girls. To date, the conferences have addressed the themes of inclusive and quality education, prevention of child marriage, role of girls as agents of change and resilience, girls’ empowerment through science, art and sports, and gender inequalities as ‘invisible challenges’ in front of access to quality education, employment and a life free from violence.

The aim of the event is to address gendered challenges that women and girls are facing in an era of newly emerging risks, such as pandemics and climate change. Participants, including public figures, experts and adolescents, will discuss and showcase new risks and new opportunities that the rapidly changing world of the 2020s is bringing for adolescents. A particular focus will be given on the ways in which adolescent girls can be agents of change in the face of the key challenges as detailed below.

Pandemics are known to exacerbate gender inequalities worldwide. COVID-19 is casing an unprecedented crisis that is disrupting lives, health, economies and societies. It is not only a health crisis, but also a humanitarian and development crisis with the worst impact expected in fragile contexts, conflict settings and in vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities, refugees, migrants and people living in poverty. The pandemic has altered perceptions of safety and security for millions of people. Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of pandemics are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their gender.

  • Compounded economic impacts are felt especially by women and girls who are generally earning less, saving less, and holding insecure jobs or living close to poverty.
  • Unpaid care work has increased, heightened care needs of older persons and overwhelmed health services. This has a direct link to wage inequality, lower income, poorer education outcomes, and physical and mental health stressors.
  • As the pandemic deepens economic and social stress coupled with restricted movement and social isolation measures, gender-based violence is increasing exponentially. Many women and girls are being forced to ‘lockdown’ at home with their abusers at the same time that services to support survivors are being disrupted or made inaccessible.
  • The health of women and girls generally is adversely impacted through the reallocation of resources and priorities, including sexual and reproductive health services.
  • School closures lead to many consequences such as loss of education and learning; some adolescents dropping out of school permanently in order to work or care for sick relatives; increase in risks of sexual exploitation and abuse, child marriage and teenage pregnancy; reduction of social interactions between peers; and interruption of other school-based services, including school lunches and social services. Lack of access to distance learning platforms and resources also increase the marginalisation of the adolescent girls.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges that the world is facing today. It threatens the livelihoods and well-being of all people and societies. It is considered not just an environmental issue but also development, humanitarian, and above all a gender equality issue. It contributes to social and intergenerational injustice; those who have contributed least are most impacted. World Bank2 estimates that climate change could push more than 100 million additional people back into poverty by 2030. Since it affects ecosystems and agriculture, its consequences will have an extreme burden on poor women and girls, who bear the responsibilities in agriculture in many parts of the world. In situation of natural disasters linked with climate change, women, and girls often lose access to education, vital health services, including sexual and reproductive health care, and they face a heightened risk of gender-based violence. The inequality and discrimination experienced by adolescent girls, especially the most marginalized, are amplified by climate change.

  • Girls’ education often comes first to be sacrificed by the families when faced with the impacts of the climate change. Girls are forced to drop their schools to help their families. When they are out of school it is less likely to learn about the climate change and its effects.
  • Child marriage becomes a negative coping mechanism in the face of economic hardships caused by climate change. This puts millions of girls at risk of sexual and physical abuse, early pregnancy, and maternal death.
  • The impacts of climate change cause many people to migrate which puts girls’ safety at risk. These risks are worst when girls are collecting natural resources and when staying in temporary shelters.
  • Disruption to health services due to disasters increases unplanned pregnancies and sexual and reproductive health problems. Certain diseases may affect girls more than boys if they are already suffering from malnutrition or a lack of water, especially during menstruation or if they are pregnant or young mothers.

The Day of the Girl Child Event in 2020 is aimed at mobilising children and young people to have a say on their future and take lead in the finding solutions to above mentioned key crises, i.e. pandemics and climate change. Youth activists dealing with the global issues will collectively share their messages, inform wider communities, entrepreneurs and policy makers on their ongoing initiatives as agents of change and lead the preparation of an action plan for the upcoming years - which could also be presented as a side event during the CSW 2021. The event will also provide a platform for experts and policy makers to join their forces to collectively work to achieve sustainable development goals.

The event will incorporate a series of online activities bringing adolescents and stakeholders together. These will include work groups on specific themes that will produce statements as outcome, workshops with adolescents and key experts, a panel with youth representatives, celebrities and experts, an international video on above topics prepared with the support of youth-peer network and videos from public figures to give support and solidarity messages.