Promoting health through the life-course

Statement on International Day of the Girl Child

Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General, Family, Women’s and Children’s Health

Young girls in Indonesia
WHO/Geoffrey McKell

11 OCTOBER 2017 - Today, WHO joins partners all over the world in marking the International Day of the Girl. This year’s theme, EmPOWER girls, focuses the spotlight on the daunting challenges that girls face before, during, and after humanitarian crises.

All people face challenges in humanitarian crises; adolescent girls face unique risks due to their age and their gender. In situations of instability and displacement resulting from conflict and natural disasters, girls can be more vulnerable to sexual and physical violence, exploitation and trafficking. Further increased rates of child marriage have been observed in certain countries experiencing humanitarian emergencies; 9 out of 10 of the countries with the highest child marriage rates are classified as fragile states. In addition to loss of protective networks, basic health services that are critical to girls’ health, well-being and human rights are often in short supply in crisis situations – including sexual and reproductive health services, mental health services, and menstrual hygiene supplies.

Dr Flavia Bustreo, May 2016

Girls are resilient and have an enormous untapped potential to contribute to healthy and peaceful communities.

Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General, Family, Women's and Children's Health

It is not, enough, however, to focus only on interventions during humanitarian emergencies. Some of the risks faced by girls – child marriage, early pregnancy and unsafe abortion, HIV and other STIs, and violence – both in conflict and peacetime, are greatly impacted by harmful gender norms and stereotypes that undermine the human rights and agency of girls. These norms also hinder their access to education and employment.

On the Day of the Girl, WHO calls on all partners to ensure that humanitarian responses are inclusive of the needs of girls, and that girls are meaningfully involved in designing, implementing and assessing policies and programmes that affect them. WHO also calls for concerted, evidence- based action at scale to promote gender equality in order to ensure the health and well-being of adolescent girls and boys, and to strengthen gender-responsive programming and policies that do not perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes and norms.

Girls are resilient and have an enormous untapped potential to contribute to healthy and peaceful communities. Today, and every day, let us do everything we can to listen to girls and empower them with the individual abilities, social support and the resources they need to survive, thrive and transform their communities, even in the most difficult of circumstances.