Every 10 minutes a girl dies as a result of violence, UNICEF said, on the International Day of the Girl. Highlighting the challenges millions of girls face before, during and after crises, this year’s theme for the International Day of the Girl is ‘EmPOWER girls: Emergency response and resilience planning’.
In 2016, approximately 535 million children – nearly one in four worldwide – were living in countries affected by conflict, natural disasters, and other emergencies. Three quarters of these children live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Millions of girls in the Eastern and Southern African region continue to be denied their basic rights, most starkly so amid the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, a protracted crisis in Somalia, and unrelenting drought in the Horn of Africa.
“In times of emergency and crisis, girls are disproportionally affected by gender-based violence, and at a high risk of abuse, exploitation and trafficking,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Leila Pakkala. “In conflict situations, girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys, and more girls are likely to be victims of child marriage. All of us in society must do all that we can to protect girls from any form of violence and abuse.”
In South Sudan the level of sexual and physical violence against girls has been greatly intensified by the current conflict. UNICEF’s ongoing support in the country includes the training of more than 350 people on how to report sexual exploitation and abuse, and support to the establishment of 16 safe spaces for women and girls.
The situation is also difficult in the aftermath of natural disasters, where girls have fewer resources, less mobility, and more difficulty accessing life-saving information and networks. In response to the prolonged drought in the Horn of Africa, UNICEF and partners are working to make sure that girls have equal access to services.
In Ethiopia for instance, together with the Government of Ethiopia, UNICEF’s response includes a focus on supporting girls to access and benefit from education, and for water and sanitation facilities to be set up closer to communities.
In 2017, UNICEF has reached more than 2.1 million people affected by the drought in Ethiopia with safe water through water trucking, rehabilitation, maintenance and construction of new water points. This means that girls are likely to spend less time collecting water, and they will not have to walk long distances, ultimately reducing risks.
Empowering girls, says UNICEF, requires focused investment and collaboration between emergency preparedness, emergency response and development sectors. When girls are provided with services and safety, education, and skills, they are better placed when a conflict or disaster strikes.