The SDGs: Powerful Promises for Girls

By Leslie Archambeault and Amanda Lundy

Evidence has proven time and again that girls have enormous potential to contribute to sustainable development, and that their involvement is a prerequisite to its achievement. Despite this, girls remain one of the most marginalized populations in the world, facing the double discrimination of being both young and female. Girls who come from minority ethnic groups, live in poverty, or have a disability are even more likely to be left behind and invisible.

The Sustainable Development Goals emphasized the role that girls can and do play in achieving the vision for 2030. But abstract commitments made on paper are not nearly enough. The need for quick and effective steps toward implementation is urgent, particularly in the stark shadow of normalized and unacceptable human rights abuses faced by some of the most vulnerable populations in the world, especially girls.

Central to the efforts of the SDGs is the recognition of gender equality as an inextricable and essential condition necessary to the achievement of the overarching 2030 Agenda. It emphasizes the indispensable need to end all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls everywhere, to put a stop to harmful practices like child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

Girls are key stakeholders in the implementation and accountability of the SDGs. All SDG processes and mechanisms must take girls’ needs, voices, and disparate experiences into account. Girls represent both a population group that cannot be left behind if we are to meet the ambitious goals agreed to in Agenda 2030, as well as formidable agents for change with enormous potential to change realities for themselves, their friends, families, communities, and countries.

At Plan International, we believe in and support the power and transformative potential of girls. The 2030 Agenda provided momentum to amplify this work for girls’ rights and to advocate for urgent, comprehensive, and localised implementation of the SDGs for girls in all countries where we work. We quickly worked to identify pilot countries where SDGs could best be leveraged to make a sustainable change in policy and practice for girls’ rights.

In one country in Africa, our office identified an urgent need for greater civil society engagement on implementing the SDGs, particularly on gender equality and girls’ rights. They worked with like-minded organisations to create a civil society platform to engage the government on SDG implementation for girls and women, and to work with the relevant UN agencies who are also passionate on this issue. This approach was crucial to presenting a strong, united set of recommendations to the government on localizing the SDGs for girls and women.

In Brazil, SDG implementation looked very different. Focusing on the vital need for girls’ inclusion in implementation processes, Plan International Brazil utilized national-level research on the rights of girls in Brazil to undertake a project entitled: “Because I am a Girl: A National Platform for Citizen Participation.” The project, funded by the government, centers on the critical need for girls’ inclusion in SDG implementation, and promotes the mobilization, engagement, advocacy, and accountability capacities of 200 adolescent girls throughout Brazil to influence SDG implementation. Plan International Brazil also just concluded the first stage of the “Girls’ Leadership School” project through which 180 girls were trained on rights awareness, advocacy, and leadership.

Underpinning this engagement with governments on SDG implementation is evidence – strong data and stories that showcase the lived realities of girls. To address this, Plan International initiated a multi-sectoral coalition with private sector and civil society partners, to monitor strategically chosen SDG targets and indicators to track and accelerate global progress for girls and women.  By utilizing alternative and official data, this SDG tracker initiative will use measurement, monitoring, research and advocacy to support organizations and individuals to better enable all of us to hold governments to account.

The gaps in what we know about girls’ lived realities is a great barrier to the achievement of the SDGs and the fulfillment of girls’ human rights more broadly, as we cannot improve upon what we cannot yet measure. Having sound and credible data which tells a full picture of girls and women’s lived realities will provide essential insight into underlying causes of discrimination and inequality, and allows us to monitor and evaluate what programming and policies have the greatest impacts.

The powerful promises made by the global community through the SDGs can only be achieved through the determined and concerted efforts of us all, including girls. Only with the inclusion of girls’ voices, credible and accessible data on girls’ experiences, and the local level addressing of girls’ rights and gender equality will we succeed in realizing the ambitious 2030 Agenda, and in the universal realization of girls’ human rights.

Leslie Archambeault, J.D., M.S., is a human rights attorney and gender equality specialist with academic and professional experience in research, policy, and advocacy in the areas of human rights and international humanitarian law; conflict prevention, peacebuilding and transitional justice; women’s rights; and children’s rights. Currently serving as the Policy and Advocacy Officer at Plan International’s New York United Nations Liaison Office, she is a graduate of Pace University, Brooklyn Law School, and most recently NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Leslie has consulted for the UNDP’s Regional Hub for Arab States on conflict prevention and peacebuilding, and human rights in the Arab States context, as well as for UN Women’s Trust Fund for Ending Violence against Women. She has researched and reported on topics related to the Women, Peace and Security Agenda for both UN Women’s Peace and Security Team and Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division, including on forced marriage and sexual slavery in conflict contexts, the gendered effects of international counter-terrorism policies, and countering violent extremism.

Amanda Lundy is an Advocacy Advisor for Plan International. She leads global strategic development and country support for the organisation’s influencing on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She focuses particularly on leveraging the SDGs and holding governments to account for achieving progress on girls’ rights in the 70 countries in which Plan International works. From 2013-2015, Amanda led Plan International’s advocacy on the SDG negotiation process with a focus on girls’ rights and youth engagement in monitoring and accountability. Amanda has previously worked on education policy and advocacy for Save the Children UK, particularly focusing on education in slow-onset emergencies and low-fee private schooling in the global south. She has undertaken short- and long-term humanitarian deployments in advocacy and communications for both Plan International and Oxfam GB. She holds an MSc in Global Politics from the London School of Economics.


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