The international community has repeatedly promised to make gender equality a reality. Yet, at current rates of change, it will take decades for girls and boys to be treated as equals. It will take more efforts to realize girls’ rights. But claiming girls’ rights starts with understanding girls’ rights. Our in-depth study and fact sheets analyse whether the international human rights framework adequately addresses girls’ lived realities, and make recommendations to strengthen and advance girls’ rights.
Reaffirming girls' rights as human rights
An in-depth study of the status of girls in the international human rights framework
Through reviewing over 1,300 international policy documents and identifying existing references to girls and their rights in the international human rights framework, this study considers whether the international community adequately addresses girls’ lived realities in international instruments and makes recommendations to strengthen and advance girls’ rights.
Although international law safeguards the rights of all human beings - including girls - only few provisions in human rights treaties mention or attribute rights to girls specifically. Girls theoretically do enjoy further protection on the basis of their gender and status as minors by the mutually reinforcing women’s and children’s rights conventions: CEDAW and CRC. These two Conventions are important tools for the protection and promotion of the human rights of the girl child. However, both of these treaties lack specificity and focus on intersectionality, rendering the girl child effectively invisible. What's more, too many international policy documents group girls into generic categories of ‘children’, ‘adolescents’, ‘youth’, or ‘women’—therefore relegating girls’ rights to the margins. The reasons for the failure of the international human rights framework to adequately address girls’ needs or comprehensively capture girls’ unique position and intersecting marginalization are multiple. Among them are the tensions between the women's rights and children's rights discourse, as well as the politicization of girl-related issues during international negotiations. Additional factors, including vague treaty terminology, treaty reservations, and refusal to ratify, render international conventions and their protections for the girl child less effective than hoped. The limited availability of gender- and age-disaggregated data, resources, and girl-specific programmes further hamper the implementation and fulfilment of girls’ equal rights. Empowering the girl child therefore requires a more holistic and bold approach, as well as complementarity of action between the children’s rights and women’s rights agendas.
- Adopt a girls’ rights discourse: States should differentiate girls’ human rights from women’s or children’s rights, and refrain from adopting age- or gender-neutral approaches. They should better articulate girls’ specific needs when developing new international norms, and consider the girl child’s intersecting identities and cultural contexts.
- Stop politicization: States should stop politicizing issues relating to the girl child and consistently use the strongest, most favourable to the advancement of girls’ rights, agreed language available.
- Listen to girls: States should listen to girls directly. The international community must start from the position that girls understand best what is happening in their own lives and enable meaningful participation of girls.
- Strengthen guidance on girls’ rights: There a several ways in which States could obtain more guidance on promoting and protecting girls’ rights. For example, the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of the Girl Child would be seminal in bringing girls from the margins to the centre of the international agenda. Additionally, the CEDAW and CRC Committees should develop a joint General Comment/Recommendation that specifies the human rights of girls and ways to address them through the interpretation of CEDAW and CRC obligations, in order to fill the current gaps in international law.