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Menendez Statement on International Day of the Girl Child

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today issued the following statement in observance of International Day of the Girl Child to call attention to the increasing vulnerabilities and threats to gender equality that girls face due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“On International Day of the Girl Child, we celebrate the more than 1.1 billion girls around the world who will become the next generation of leaders and change-makers. The countless young women and girls who are working to build a better, more inclusive society for all future generations continue to inspire me to match their hard work and dedication. As this year marks the 25thanniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the Beijing Declaration on equal rights of women and girls, we celebrate the progress that has been made, including girls’ increased access to health and nutrition, a reduction in child marriage, and the narrowed gender gap in education.[i] Today, however, the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately impacting women and girls, exacerbating pre-existing issues, and threatening to roll back decades of hard-won progress. Yet leaders have failed to address the specific needs of women and girls in their responses to the pandemic. In order to achieve more equitable and effective responses to the crisis, I believe we must bring attention to just some of the dangerous ways in which the COVID-19 crisis disproportionately impacts girls across the globe.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on the global economy, but history has shown that in times of crisis, women and girls are hit hardest by economic shocks to households.[ii] With the downturn from the pandemic, the number of children living in poverty is expected to rise by 100 million in 2020.[iii] As poverty rises, girls are at a higher risk of child labor[iv] and are also more likely to be burdened with extra care work at home, making it difficult for them to continue their education.[v] In addition, the pandemic is predicted to lead to 130 million people without enough food in 2020, many of whom will be girls, as they are more likely than men and boys to go without food. [vi] If left unaddressed, the economic impacts of the pandemic will deepen gender inequalities and limit future opportunities for millions of girls. 

The COVID-19 crisis has also imperiled girls’ education and could reverse decades of progress in achieving gender equality in education. Prior to the pandemic, 130 million girls were out of school.[vii] Following the COVID-19 crisis, an estimated 10 million more girls could be out of school.[viii] Girls are far less likely than boys to return to school after they have dropped out, and the loss of even six months of education during the pandemic could mean girls in low- and lower-middle income countries lose 50 percent of their total years of education.[ix] Education is critical for the development of all young people, and without education, millions of girls will lose their ability to make decisions about their own future.

With pandemic-related lockdowns and worsening economic conditions, there has been a horrifying surge in violence against women and girls around the globe, and girls are increasingly at risk of particular forms of violence.[x] For the first time in 30 years, girls will be more, not less, at risk of child marriage, with an estimated 500,000 additional child marriages expected in 2020.[xi] With rising poverty and decreasing access to sexual and reproductive health services, more than one million girls also face the risk of adolescent pregnancy in 2020.[xii] Girls are also at a higher risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking as economic conditions become more desperate.[xiii] Furthermore, as COVID-19 interrupts efforts to reduce gender-based violence, cases of female genital mutilation are also expected to rise by two million over the next ten years, primarily impacting girls and young women.[xiv

The choices we make in response to this pandemic will have a profound consequence on the lives of women and girls, perhaps for generations. In this moment of crisis, we must not let the advances in gender equality become another victim of the pandemic. Let us use this moment to redouble our commitment to advancing gender equality globally, not only by addressing the immediate needs of women and girls, but also by building back a better, more inclusive world for all, in which every woman and girl can live with dignity and equality.”