This week leaders, movers, shakers and international change makers came together in New-York for the annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). The conference aims to catalyze dialogue and galvanize action by encouraging members to share creative solutions to global problems and pledge large scale commitments to social causes.
If you have been following the sessions you will know that this year we had not one, but four panels dedicated to ‘girls empowerment’. In fact, the opening plenary session of the conference chaired by former president Bill Clinton was titled ‘Empowering Girls and Women’. We then had a chance to hear about ‘preparing girls for the world’, ‘Securing the health and safety of girls’ and ‘Girls from Education to Economic Empowerment’.
In the evening there was a dinner for the glitterati sponsored by Goldman Sachs titled ‘Investing in Women and Girls’. According to Nick Kristof, NY columnist and author of ‘Half the Sky’, it was ‘the hottest ticket in town’.
So what did we hear in these sessions?
Well it is very telling that the words ‘gender equality’ weren’t used at all. What does that indicate to us? That the sessions weren’t focused on achieving an equal society for both men and women, girls and boys. The sessions were focused on (and we quote) ‘Adolescent girls, the most underutilized resources in the world today’. Although broadly speaking investment in girls’ potential and empowering them to access opportunities is a laudable aim, one which we the ‘girls report’ team are in favour of, we also feel that the Human Rights based arguments have been diluted and practically disappeared altogether from the scene. Girls have the right to be invested in. Actually, so do boys. And this investment will lead to a fairer society which will benefit everyone because social equality fosters prosperity. And more importantly: investing in girls, gender equality for all, is not just a means to an end, it is an end in itself.
Rosalind Eyben, convener of IDS’s Pathway of Empowerment Programme says it best with her post on Open Democracy ‘Making Women Work for Development – Again’.
Moreover, focusing exclusively on the ‘return on investing in a girl’ in essence adds another load to their already burdened lives. So girls are now asked not only to clean, fetch water and firewood, help cook and take care of the sick and elderly, they are now tasked with raising their entire communities out of poverty.
Although we are heartened by the increased attention and investment by the corporate sector in girls, we worry that by disconnecting the rights based arguments from these discussions we are letting duty bearers off the hook. Ultimately it is the states responsibility to provide girls with free, quality education. If we do not discuss investment in girls in the context of human right treaties, international law and convention obligations, what’s to ensure these investments in girls empowerment are sustainable and not a product of a passing fad?
We believe it is time to add an old sentiment to the new discussions on girl’s empowerment: girls rights, are human rights.