Yesterday, October 11, was the 10th anniversary of the International Day of the Girl Child, and it is time we entered into the public discourse what it is, what it is for, and how the country is addressing the most pressing problem facing young girls and teenagers.
The United Nations held the first International Day of the Girl Child on Oct. 11, 2012, to spread awareness about the situation and condition of girls facing gender inequality around the world and to draw support for more opportunities for them.
They face inequalities largely in the aspect of access in the areas of education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination and violence against women and children, according to the UN.
Girls and young women are increasingly being more cognizant of their rights and their ability and capacity to shape public policy and discourse and bring attention to issues that affect their sector.
With the internet and globalization, there are more opportunities for them to speak and have their voices heard on the world stage.
Providing inspiration to us all are Malala Yousafzai in the area of girls’ education and Greta Thunberg on climate awareness and action.
They overcame tremendous adversity to get their message across – Malala barely survived a murder attempt, and Greta struggled against opposition; both have received threats to their safety.
Yet, despite the challenges, they never gave up.
How much more can girls and young women like them achieve if fully supported instead of thwarted?
There are still many barriers to young girls and women fulfilling their potential, among them systemic and cultural issues of poverty, class, ethnicity, cultural traditions, health (including COVID-19), and gender discrimination.
Government-related concerns also hold back development, such as lack of or inadequate public infrastructure in their locations, inadequate laws to protect and promote their rights, few opportunities for advancement and upward mobility, and poor administration of government agencies that should be helping girls and young women achieve more for themselves.
There are some 600 million adolescent girls in the world; in the Philippines, there are some 10.3 million adolescent girls (10-19 years old), according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency.
A UNFPA policy brief of 2020 stated that teenage pregnancy is one of the “most pressing issues” Filipino youths face today.
A study the agency commissioned in 2016 found that adolescents who began childbearing before the age of 18 “are less likely to complete secondary education compared to the adolescents who have not begun childbearing.”
This failure to complete secondary education has a deep impact with a domino effect, because it negatively affects future employment opportunities and the “total life earnings of families.”
This in turn has dire consequences not only on the lives of individuals and their families, but also on economic growth and national development.
“The net estimated effect of early childbearing due to lost opportunities and foregone earnings,” the UNFPA study found, “can be as high as 33 billion pesos annual losses for the country.”
It is quite alarming to learn that the Philippines has “one of the highest adolescent birth rates among the ASEAN member states,” with World Bank data showing that the country has “47 births annually per 1,000 women aged 15-19, higher than the average adolescent birth rates of 44 globally and 33.5 in the ASEAN region,” or about 500 Filipino teenagers “getting pregnant and giving birth every day,” as the UNFPA wrote in its policy brief.
UNFPA added they echo “the sense of urgency demonstrated by NEDA [National Economic Development Authority] and POPCOM [Commission on Population and Development], which recently described the still alarmingly high teenage pregnancy rate in the country as a ‘national emergency.’”
To stem this trend, I hope these two agencies will continue to work to solve this problem and provide better opportunities for female adolescents all over country.
Other government agencies should also align themselves with this mission.
I checked the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) website, nothing on the Day of the Girl Child.
Oh, maybe it’s because they don’t have a new chairperson yet!
We don’t have a Secretary of Health either.
How’s this government doing on getting leaders for all the aimless agencies right now? Not too well, we hear.
Meanwhile, many Filipino girl children and teenagers aren’t doing well either.
They are children having children, and our society and its institutions, not just our government, must face this problem that is just as much a result of ignorance as it is of lack of resources and opportunities.
As the world celebrates the International Day of the Girl Child, let us go deeper and reflect how we can make a better country for our female children and teenagers.
As the UN study found, early childbearing has a huge negative impact on a nation’s economy and development; young women hold the future of the country in their hands and wombs.
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Dr. Ortuoste is a board member of the Philippine Center for International PEN and a member of the Manila Critics Circle, founder of the National Book Awards. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO