A girls' football team from Lusaka was formed as part of Plan International's Girl Power project. Despite progress towards gender equality, millions of girls around the world are still being denied the opportunity to reach their full potential, facing the double discrimination of being young and female. Photo by: Mary Matheson / Plan International

EDITOR’S NOTE: This commentary is authored by the following: Tanya Cox, acting head, Plan International EU Office; Neil Datta, secretary, European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development; Vicky Claeys, regional director, International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network; Ester Asin, director and EU representative, Save the Children; Cecile Vernant, head of EU advocacy, DSW; Sanjayan Srikanthan, director of policy and practice, International Rescue Committee U.K.; Deirdre de Burca, director of advocacy, World Vision Brussels and EU Representation; and Céline Mias, EU representative, CARE International.

This year has been intense, exciting and historic. It represents the culmination of years of negotiations over the framework that will guide the international community’s work over the next 15 years. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by 193 states last month, represents the most ambitious effort yet to reduce poverty, tackle inequality and injustice, and protect the planet.

The European Union must live up to its commitments under Agenda 2030, and do everything in its power to ensure girls and women benefit equally from the Sustainable Development Goals and participate equally in their implementation and monitoring.

Why? Because despite progress towards gender equality, millions of girls around the world are still being denied the opportunity to reach their full potential, facing the double discrimination of being young and female. Girls and women continue to be disproportionately affected by poverty, injustice, violence, disease, discrimination and a lack of access to resources. There is no country in the world that can claim to be truly gender equal. This is both unfair and unjust — no girl should be denied the right to realise her potential simply because of her gender.

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Leaving no-one behind

But it doesn’t have to be like this. If properly implemented, the SDGs will help create a safer, more equal and just world which leaves no one behind — including girls. They represent a historic opportunity to change the world for girls. Yet these goals will count for little if they remain just words on paper. Girls’ rights and gender equality must therefore be at the heart of the EU’s external action. The EU must ensure the goals and targets are translated into concrete results and improvements in the lives of children, especially girls, the world over.

Importantly, the EU must remember its commitments to women and girls at home, not just in partner countries. The SDGs are universal, and EU member states are also committed to meeting the goals and targets in their own contexts. Today, the EU is facing a major crisis, in particular regarding the safety of women and girls fleeing conflict, which makes it imperative that EU member states strengthen their own commitments to empowering women and girls at home, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.

The EU’s role

The EU must lead the way with political commitment, progressive transformative policies, funding and other means of implementation that ensure that gender equality is at the heart of the global endeavor to achieve all of the SDGs. We know from previous experience that data is key to knowing whether the unique challenges girls face are being addressed in interventions. It’s not enough to assume that a gender equality, youth or child-focused intervention will end up benefiting girls. That means data must be disaggregated by sex and age at a minimum, but also within age for children and young people, to capture specific age brackets — a girl of 5 faces very different challenges to a girl of 15. Given that girls often face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, data should also ideally be disaggregated by other factors such as income, race, ethnicity, disability, migratory status and geographic location.

The SDGs must go beyond simply “monitoring and review” to ensure strong accountability mechanisms and clear, measurable indicators are in place for all goals and targets. Accountability requires the meaningful and inclusive participation of all stakeholders, including girls, at national and local levels. The EU must also lead in the endeavor, and institutionalize a system of accountability and reporting that is based on clear targets and indicators, making sure that reporting on the achievement of goals takes place at the highest level.

‘Whole of government’ approach

Implementation of the SDGs is not a job for one sector or department alone — it is a universal framework that requires a whole of government approach. Given its considerable experience in this domain, the EU should set an example to both member states and partner countries, by strengthening its institutional mechanisms and ensuring that all EU policies and programs align to the SDGs as a minimum.

Adequate funding, which can be tracked through gender-sensitive budgeting, must also be dedicated to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of gender equality and women’s and girl’s empowerment. The EU is one of the world’s most influential global actors. Its policies and actions have a lasting impact on the lives of millions of girls the world over. It therefore has both an obligation and a responsibility to make sure that its policies empower girls and young women to fulfil their true potential.

The EU can help change the world for girls. Now is the time to act.

The European Week of Action for Girls is an annual week-long event that aims to ensure girls’ empowerment is promoted and their rights are protected and fulfilled in the EU’s external action, through adequate policies, funding and programs. The EWAG is organized by a coalition of civil society organizations working on topics linked to gender equality and/or children’s and youth rights, notably in development and humanitarian settings. This year’s edition takes place under the patronage of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. It takes place from Oct. 11-17, 2015, to coincide with and celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

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