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Minister Sean Sherlock addresses Plan Ireland launch of Because I am a Girl

Education, Gender, Aid Effectiveness, News/feature, Africa, Ireland, 2014

 Minister of State Sherlock

Plan Ireland launch event of Because I am a Girl report 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to begin by thanking Plan Ireland for inviting me to address you today on the occasion of the launch of its 2014 Because I am a Girl report. As a co-sponsor of the 2011 UN resolution declaring an International Day of the Girl Child, this is an initiative to which Ireland attaches great importance. 

International Day of the Girl Child provides us with an invaluable opportunity to raise awareness of and to promote the rights of girls worldwide. It allows us to highlight the very real gender inequalities that persist between girls and boys and to address the various forms of discrimination and abuse suffered by girls as a result of both their gender and their age. 

Plan Ireland is one of Irish Aid’s longest standing and valued partners. To date in 2014, over €3.2 million has been channelled through Plan Ireland’s development and humanitarian programmes. The level of support provided is a testament to the quality of Plan Ireland’s work, and its commitment to improving the lives of the poorest communities in some of the world’s most challenging environments. 

Internationally, Plan is a leader in increasing access to and quality of educational opportunities for deprived children. Plan Ireland makes a significant contribution to this global effort and is developing key areas of expertise, in particular to addressing the additional barriers faced by girls and other disadvantaged groups, notably disabled children. Irish Aid is proud to be supporting this work in West Africa through our flagship Programme Grant scheme. 

Gendered violence within schools has been identified as a major barrier to children accessing their right to education, and it is often most prevalent and widespread in countries which are experiencing conflict or emerging from conflict. As we know, accessing quality education empowers women and promotes better health and livelihood options for them and for their children. 

For example, a child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5 and the children of educated mothers are more likely to be nourished and vaccinated. The benefits of educating girls, therefore, have a positive ripple effect on families and societies. 

However, despite progress over the last decade, the right to education is still denied to an unacceptably large number of girls today. Girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in school and the impact of this violence on their health, well-being and personal development is especially severe.  The simple truth is that, for many girls, school is not a safe place to learn. Violence is perpetrated by students or teachers in or around the school, or by out of school youths and adults who approach students on their way to and from school. 

Irish Aid is committed to tackling such problems. In Zambia, for example, we work closely with civil society organisations to build public awareness of the importance of girls’ education, to increase educational opportunities for vulnerable children and to work with the Government of Zambia to promote the safety of girls and boys in schools.

In Lesotho and Uganda, we also continue to provide bursary support for girls attending secondary schools. 

Plan Ireland is also a key partner for Irish Aid in responding to emergencies threatening people’s lives and livelihoods across the globe. In Mali and Niger, our funding is supporting Plan’s work to improve child protection and education for vulnerable out-of-school children affected by chronic food insecurity and displacement. 

In South Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon and the Philippines, Plan is providing life-saving assistance to communities affected by conflict and natural disaster, with a particular focus on child protection. I am proud that our support to Plan is contributing to protection of girls from violence and exploitation and ensuring that they can learn in safe schools, in contexts where their lives are already at grave risk. 

Plan’s Because I Am a Girl campaign makes a valuable contribution to the global efforts to promote girls’ human rights.

It is fitting that this year’s report should focus on “Pathways to Power” as its theme. Ireland’s Policy for International Development, One World, One Future, reaffirms our view of gender equality as being fundamental to democratic accountability. The policy commits us to continuing to prioritise the strengthening of women and girls’ voices in decision-making at all levels and to focus on ensuring girls’ access to quality education beyond primary schools. 

Last month, I launched the Framework for Action for the implementation of One World, One Future which reaffirms these commitments and which will guide Irish Aid’s policy and programming over the coming years enabling us to ensure that our commitments are met. 

I welcome this report’s strong call for gender equality to be placed at the heart of the post-2015 framework and for the rights and needs of adolescent girls to be explicitly addressed. Ireland has been a champion for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the context of the discussions on the post-2015 framework.

We have led the call for an ambitious goal on gender equality as well as its effective mainstreaming across all other goals, targets and indicators. 

Ireland has also advocated for a post-2015 framework which addresses the rights and needs of children and the young, in particular, tackling violence against children, child and infant malnutrition, eliminating the preventable deaths of children, and achieving quality education for all. 

I also strongly support the report’s emphasis on the need to be accountable to women and girls and its call for increased investment in research and evaluation to find interventions that work. Voice and accountability are essential components to the post-2015 framework and it will be important to ensure that citizens of all ages actively participate and contribute to the decisions that affect their lives.  

To enable the measurement of progress for and by women and girls Ireland is advocating for the establishment of effective and inclusive monitoring mechanisms for the post-2015 framework.

Measuring progress in development outcomes, and particularly, inequalities, is an integral step to ensuring policies are targeted and evidence based. Irish Aid has also provided significant support for initiatives such as the UN Women Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE) Programme which aims to increase the availability and use of gender equality statistics in relation to education, employment, and asset ownership. 

We also have an obligation to tackle these issues here in Ireland. The current Programme for Government 2011-2016 contains a number of commitments to foster the achievement of gender equality, including increasing women’s participation in public life, in politics and on State Boards and strengthening equality principles, broadly defined, in the work of all public bodies. 

Through the National Women’s Strategy (2007 – 2016) and Equality for Women Measure (2008-2013) we have seen significant progress in strengthening of the legal framework and institutional mechanisms for gender equality and there have been significant steps taken to enhance women’s skills and access to employment. 

The Government is committed to ensuring that Ireland continues to play its role, both nationally and internationally, in furthering the cause of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. 

Irish Aid is proud to work together with Plan Ireland in ensuring that global commitments to advance this important agenda continue to be translated into concrete actions. 

It is only through a collective effort that we can pave a way for girls to enjoy the full expressions of their rights, fulfil their potential and contribute to and benefit from discrimination-free societies.

 

Thank you.