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International Day of the Girl Child Regional Conference
“The Time is Now! Girls’ Leadership in the Digital Era”
İstanbul, Turkey, October, 11, 2021

October 11 was declared as the International Day of the Girl Child by the United Nations General Assembly on December 19, 2011, to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face around the world.

Thanks to global efforts, there have been many improvements in protecting and promoting girls’ and women’s rights in the last decades: for example, fewer girls are forced into marriage, and more women are in leadership roles. Girls and women across countries and ages, and in all their diversities, are everyday speaking up, claiming their space, and gaining new digital skills to solve the challenges in their communities. Yet social, economic and legal barriers against full enjoyment of girls’ and women’s rights persist1. In the current context of major global challenges - such as the COVID-19 pandemic2, humanitarian and environmental crises, and shifts in digital technologies - there are still multiple inequalities to be addressed and resolved to ensure that adolescent girls are protected from violence, learn skills that prepare them for life and work, benefit from services to meet their needs, and have decision-making autonomy to change their own life and our world.

Investing in girls’ empowerment and promoting gender equality are crucial for breaking the barriers so that girls and women can enjoy their human rights, as well as for achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Efforts to achieve gender equality refer to the promotion and protection of the equal rights of girls and boys and supporting their full participation in the political, social and economic development of their communities. As underlined by the SDG 5.5, “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life”3 are key to achieve this goal. In the current era of digital transformation, this can be realized by ensuring the leadership of girls and women in the access, use and design of digital tools; by addressing the “gender digital divide”4, as well as online gender-based violence and discrimination; and by finding concrete solutions to the under-representation of women in innovation5.

Strengthening collective action for adolescent girls’ leadership

UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women in Turkey, in partnership with Aydın Doğan Foundation, have been organizing joint conferences with the aim of marking the UN Day of the Girl Child in Turkey, since 2015. The conferences addressed girls’ empowerment and leadership under various themes including quality education, prevention of child marriage, girls’ agency in the 21st Century, girls’ empowerment through science, arts and sports, success stories of empowerment, and being an adolescent girl in the face of COVID-19 and climate change.

In 2021, the conference is expanding its scope and reach to address global and regional needs of girls and young women and aims to strengthen collective action in the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) Region to support adolescent girls’ leadership in advancing gender equality in the digital world. In line with the motto of the global “Generation Equality” campaign and with the global theme of the Day of the Girl Child, “Digital Generation. Our Generation!”, the conference will highlight the potential, motivation and skills of the current generation of adolescent girls in challenging stereotypes, claiming their rights and building a more equitable world for girls, boys, women and men in the digital era.

The digital divide for girls persists in the ECA region, as it does in many parts of the world. It is reflected in the rates of women’s access to internet, with women in some regions having 30% less access compared to men6, girls’ underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)7, and increased online sexual harassment, cyber-bulling8 and concerns for privacy and safety9 which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, discriminatory social norms and violence against girls and women remain prevalent in the region, affecting the most disadvantaged populations, including refugee and migrant girls and women10. Whilst the last decade has been marked by increasingly visible social movements around gender, a push-back against the progress achieved has also been observed globally and in the ECA region, including a trend of challenging international standards concerning women’s and girls’ human rights and violence against girls and women.

The time is now!

It is in this context that the global community needs to support adolescent girls to leverage their leadership and solutions, to claim their rights and become a new generation of digital leaders for their communities. Building on the accumulated knowledge on girls’ empowerment and leadership addressed in previous conferences, UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women and Aydın Doğan Foundation are committed to advocate for action for girls’ leadership in the digital age, with a specific focus on how the current generation of young girls and women participate, challenge stereotypes and claim their rights in the era of digital interaction and learning.

Acknowledging that girls are not just passive recipients but also actors of the digital sphere, the discussions will shed light on the ways in which the online world provides tools for adolescent girls in their transition to adulthood, such as the means to freely express and value themselves, claim their rights, access services, construct their autonomy11, experience and reimagine digital learning, build solidarity with peers, and overall, influence their communities as leaders of change. The conference will also offer solutions for girls’ protection from risks including cyber bullying and online sexual harassment and will conclude with a call for action and recommendations for regional stakeholders to support adolescent girls in accessing digital tools, strengthening their skills, creativity and critical thinking and ensuring their meaningful and safe participation in the online sphere. The conference will provide a platform for girls and women to amplify their voices and solutions, engaging young leaders of change from across the region and girls and boys around Turkey, including refugee children, through panels, video messages and various digital products that will be showcased throughout the conference.

The event will be held in hybrid format, with face-to-face and online participation, in accordance with COVID-19 precautions. A detailed agenda will be shared with the confirmed attendees.

1 The Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2020; United Nations Children’s Fund, UN Women and Plan International, 2020, A New Era for Girls: Taking Stock of 25 Years of Progress

2 UN Women, 2020, The Shadow Pandemic: Violence against women during Covid-19

3 The Sustainable Development Goals

4 UNICEF, 2021, What do we know about the gender digital divide: a literature review

5 UN Women, 2021, Action Coalitions: Global Acceleration Plan

6 UNICEF, 2021, Gender Equality Strategy in Europe and Central Asia: 2021-2025

7 ibid

8 UNICEF, 2021, Situation of children in Europe and Central Asia [in preparation]

9 UN Women, 2021, Fireflies Campaign against Gender-Based Cyber Violence

10 UNICEF, 2021, International Day of the Girl Child Concept Note [internal document]

11 UNFPA, State of World Population: Claiming the Right to Autonomy and Self-Determination