26th Jan 2020


Let girls own the future

  • Today the Nobel Peace prize might well be handed to the youngest laureate ever, Greta Thunberg (Photo: European Parliament)

Friday 11 October, is the International Day of the Girl. Also today, the Nobel Peace prize might well be handed to the youngest laureate ever, Greta Thunberg – even younger than the previous record holder, the awesome Malala Yousafzai, who was 17 at the time she was awarded the coveted award.

What a fitting coincidence that would be: while our politics gets dominated, all year round, by old and bullying alpha males and the negativity they have injected into our times, there is at least one day of hope, one way of hope, and it is through unleashing the power of young girls.

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Women's rights are the hallmark of a flourishing society. If they succeed, society prospers, and it starts early in life. Letting girls' lives be 'unscripted and unstoppable', as this year's motto runs, is vital for all of us.

We are still, sad to say, far removed from that goal.

Across the world, attempts are made to constrain girls to a path scripted for them by others: to be married to men they did not themselves chose, to be mothers at an age they did not set for themselves, to labour for benefits they will never see anything of.

This should stop, as they say, 'right here, right now'.

For it is not a 'natural', 'traditional' or ungraspable phenomenon, as many would have us believe. It is the result of deliberate, domineering, distasteful policies. And it is in our power to turn them around.

Because firstly, it's a question of money. Across the world, and particularly in developing countries, economies are largely run by women but not for them.

They do the work, they don't own the companies or the land. They do the same jobs, they don't get the same wages. According to McKinsey, empowering women economically would add some $28bn [€25.4bn] to global GDP by 2025.

And what they receive, they share with society much more than men do, in terms of care for children and schools. Stronger mothers are what makes girls (and boys) richer.

And our trade policies can make a real difference: outgoing trade commissioner Cecilia Malström has put gender at the heart of all of her trade policies, and at his parliamentary hearing I received from her successor, Phil Hogan, a clear commitment to have gender provisions in all future trade agreements.

Money, sex, and power

Secondly, it's a question of sex.

Internationally, the backlash against women and girls' rights is as massive as it is well-organised, through a coalition of religious extremists who – from Donald Trump to the Vatican and from Poland to Saudi Arabia – make strange bedfellows, only agreeing on one thing: that women should never be allowed to choose for themselves.

It takes the form of an active and successful campaign in the United Nations against sexual and reproductive rights. They pose a constant threat to one of the main factors in adolescent girls' lives: whether or not they are free to decide over their own bodies.

So thirdly, it's a question of politics.

Empowering girls at the most basic social level demands the strongest support of those at the political top.

Dutch Minister Sigrid Kaag was in the lead to oppose the patriarchic coalition within the UN, and that effort should continuously be waged at every level of politics.

Girls' and young women's needs should be the focus of all of our policies, from welfare systems geared towards the needs of children and mothers, to strengthened education provisions in our internal and external policies, from women's inclusion on Europe's labour markets to global efforts to strengthen girls' rights, opportunities and liberties.

We can do this. The reasons why girls are often held back are entirely political. So setting them free is eminently feasible.

As Greta and Malala and so many other brave, inspirational, insuppressible girls show: they will own the future whether we like it or not. Let us give them the best possible start in doing so!

Author bio

Samira Rafaela is an Dutch MEP for the D66/RE party.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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