Achieving Gender Equality Requires Placing Adolescents at the Center

A drawing of three girls in blue dresses. Girl on the left is standing on a chair speaking, girl in the middle is standing in front of a chair with her hand raised and the girl on the right is sitting and looking at the girl on the left.An important article from the Journal of Adolescent Health, entitled Achieving Gender Equality Requires Placing Adolescents at the Center caught our attention recently and we wanted to share some extracts with you:

Today, there are 1.8 billion young people aged 10–24 years or one quarter of the world’s population, 86% of whom live in low- and middle-income countries. In many ways, this is good news—one of the greatest legacies of the Millennium Development Goals is the reduction in infant and child mortality worldwide from 12.7 per 1,000 in 1990 to 5.9 in 2015.

During that same period, child survival was not matched, however, with declining birth rates; so too, investments in the first 1,000 were not matched with investments in the first 8,000 days of life. As a consequence, large segments of the global population of young people have not been beneficiaries of global economic growth, and now large segments of this same population face steep challenges that threaten its developmental and economic potential.

In many corners of the world, crushing poverty and a dearth of opportunity constrain both individual and national development, adversely impacting the prospects of adolescents more than any other age group. Going forward, as fertility rates decrease, and a country’s working-age population grows relative to its dependent population, there is a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth if the right social and economic investments and policies are made in health, education, governance, and the economy. However, realizing this dividend will require that all segments and genders of the population to be equal beneficiaries.

No longer can countries afford to discount the contributions of half their population by restricting opportunities and access for girls and women. Neither can they afford to ignore the personal and social consequences of gender discrimination. The United Nations reflected this imperative in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) where gender equality and empowerment of all girls and women are one of the pillars (SDG#5). So too, The World Bank has indicated that gender inequalities and gender norms that entrench gender discrimination impact not only individuals but are also perhaps the biggest constraints on a country’s economic growth. However, if SDG #5 is to be achieved by 2030, we cannot ignore boys and men in the name of supporting girls and women. Neither can we wait for adulthood to increase social inclusion and produce generational change.

In May 2018, a group of 22 global leaders (The Bellagio Working Group) met for three days to craft indicators and research priorities that can inform programs and policies aimed at achieving gender equality for all by 2030 (SDG#5). The central recommendations to improve policy and practice include:

  1. Place adolescents at the center of strategies that increase gender equality and start with early adolescence.
  2. Acknowledge that there are multiple structural factors that drive gender disparities; thus, individual behavior change and empowerment approaches alone are insufficient.
  3. Re-examine the roles that education and faith institutions play in enforcing gender inequalities and develop institutional strategies to maximize gender equality and inclusion.
  4. Expand SDG indicators so as to prioritize and better monitor changes needed to maximize gender equality. These indicators focus on key aspects of adolescents’ lives where the greatest changes are needed, especially education, health, personal safety, and empowerment. Indicators need to include the percentage of adolescents:
    • Education: Completing secondary school by sex, with access to comprehensive sex education.
    • Freedom from violence: Feeling safe in their neighborhood and school by age and sex, exposed to gender-based and interpersonal violence by age and sex.
    • Freedom from coercion: Marrying by age 15 and 18 years.
    • Voice: Indicating they can ask for help when needed.
    • Health: Reporting depression by age and sex, accessing family planning.