Sexual and reproductive health

International Day of the Girl Child 2017:
EmPOWER girls

11 October 2017: WHO joins individuals, communities and organizations worldwide in marking this year’s International Day of the Girl Child. This event commemorates the importance of gender equality and human rights for the well-being and health of girls and young women everywhere. It recognizes that empowering girls to achieve their full potential is also essential for their families and for their societies.

Girls gather outside their temporary classroom in a camp for internally displaced people, North Darfur
Girls gather outside their temporary classroom in the Kassab camp for internally displaced people, North Darfur

The theme of this year’s event is ‘EmPOWER girls’, which is intended to shine a spotlight on the particular challenges which girls face before, during and following humanitarian crises. Of some 100 million people who were targeted in 2015 with humanitarian aid, an estimated 26 million were women and girls of reproductive age.


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

During crises, girls face intensified challenges to their sexual and reproductive health. Crises can increase the risk of death and ill-health during and following pregnancy and childbirth. Crises also often exacerbate existing violence against women and girls, and can expose them to additional forms of violence. With the breakdown in existing health services and facilities, it can be more difficult for girls to address their health and well-being needs and to access essential services.

Even in the absence of conflict and natural disasters, gender inequalities hinder girls’ access to resources. Crises intensify these inequalities; Instability and displacement resulting from crises worsen girls’ ability to study or work. Crises can also place additional burdens on girls’ time when they are required to look for food and water, or to take care of young children or elderly in absence of parents or other adult caregivers.

Video message

In a video message to mark the International Day of the Girl Child, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus notes that “addressing harmful gender norms is a crucial part of protecting and promoting health, and preventing disease…All of us who are parents, or who work with children and adolescents, must engage in open discussions about gender stereotypes, and foster and role model gender equality for our children.”

WHO is bringing attention to the importance of gender equality for adolescent girls by highlighting the findings of the recently published Global Early Adolescent Study. The study, which was conducted in 15 countries with boys and girls aged 10-14 years, highlights that early adolescence is a critical time in life when conventional gender norms related to masculinity and femininity are established and reinforced. The study shows that societal expectations of boys and girls differ, and so do their own gender attitudes. Across diverse cultural contexts, puberty is associated with an expansion of boys’ worlds and a shrinking of girls’ worlds.

Boys are often blind to their own privilege. When they do challenge unequal norms that privilege them, they experience sanctions from peers and parents. Girls recognize their own disadvantage and are more willing to challenge unequal norms that disadvantage them. Boys need therefore to be supported, and not punished, when they challenge unequal norms. Girls need also to be supported to exercise their agency.

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