By Laura Glenn O'Carroll
Each week in June, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs has highlighted the central role that rural girls must play in consideration of the 2018 G7 priority theme areas. This is the final installment of the Stakeholder Girls blog series. Please see our previous posts on the central role of rural girls in responding to climate change, preparing for the future of work, and economic growth. If leaders do not consider the unique strengthens and concerns of rural girls, progress on each of these themes will be curtailed.
A girl sits at the back of a truck as she prepares to flee sectarian violence with other Muslim families in a convoy escorted by African Union (AU) peacekeepers towards the border with Cameroon, in the town of Bouar, west of the Central African Republic. Photo Credit: Reuters/Siegfried Modola
Girls are often seen as victims, combatants, and weapons in many modern-day conflicts. Despite their ongoing involvement in war and conflict, little recognition is given of this impact post-conflict. Lasting peace depends on empowering girls before conflict breaks out, and recognizing the specific impacts of conflict on girls during peace discussions. International leaders must recognize the continued level of day to day violence that many rural girls experience and make meaningful investments to ensure that the human rights of all girls are upheld. When rural girls are not safe, there will not be lasting global peace and security.
International security and domestic safety are not divorced from one another. Regions of the world where women and girls face greater day to day levels of threats, including violence and abuse, are also more likely
to see the rise of extremist and destabilizing political groups. In many regions, modern-day extremist groups have weaponized sexual violence against women and girls, but armed groups throughout history have targeted girls to further their interests and spread fear. The best predictor of a nation’s stability
is how a country treats its women—not its political system, ethnic identity, or level of wealth. A country is not at peace when half of the population lives under ongoing threats of physical harm.
The Daily Battle
Violence against girls knows no boundaries. Nearly three-quarters of all children
across the globe experience violence each year, and in rural regions the rate of violence is even higher
. Abuse and lack of accountability for perpetrators creates environments of fear, which further curtails girls’ ability to receive the education and healthcare that is critical to their success. While primary school attendance rates are increasing globally, girls worldwide continue to drop out of secondary schools
at much higher rates than their brothers. Secondary school coincides with puberty for girls, a time when parents often become increasingly concerned
about the risk of sexual harassment for their daughters. Particularly in rural areas where schools can be a great distance away from where girls live, the walk to school can be prohibitively dangerous; and when combined with issues like poor quality of teaching, lack of sanitation facilities, and physical abuse by teachers, many girls and their families deem the safety cost of education too high to bare.
Social norms and expectations for girls can fuel violence as well. Widespread preference for sons over daughters both devalues the worth of girls in their own households and fuels female infanticide and sex-selective abortions that tilts a society towards an over representation of young men and a lack of young women. India alone is thought to have over 63 million
“missing women”—nearly 7.5 percent
of its female population. This phenomenon, aided by new technology, is actually increasing across the globe
. Although previously concentrated in Asia, regions as varied as southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa are seeing increased rates of both active (via sex-selective abortion) and passive (via neglect in healthcare or nutrition) eliminations of girls. Disproportionate populations of young men, many who will never be able to marry and create families—and are thereby shut out from traditional markers of masculinity in their societies—can increase crime and fuel insurgencies. For example, nearly 25 percent of ex-combatants from Sierra Leone
told surveyors that they joined the Revolutionary United Front (a brutal revolutionary army that committed extensive
war crimes) in order to find a spouse, after being shut out of the marriage market that is dominated by older men and practices of polygamy.
A girl looks up at the back of a truck as she prepares to flee sectarian violence with other Muslim families in a convoy escorted by African Union (AU) peacekeepers towards the border with Cameroon, in the town of Bouar, west of the Central African Republic. Photo Credit: Reuters/Siegfried Modola
Girls with Power
Girls are not just in need of protection, however. They are powerful allies that can help to build stronger communities, states, and strengthen international law. Elevating the status of girls allows them to stand as equals when they mature and become both community and national leaders. Women’s agency in conflict can be complex. Across the globe, women and girls are also acting as combatants in armed conflicts. Traditionally, women have often been excluded from peace talks because they have not been considered central actors during wartime. It is vital that peace facilitators update their thinking. From 1992 to 2011, women comprised just two percent of mediators and nine percent of negotiators in official peace talks. Extensive evidence demonstrates that when women are excluded from peace talks, agreements break down faster. When women help create an agreement, it is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years. Rural girls that are forced to participate in conflict will grow into women. By allowing their voices as affected parties to influence peace processes, leaders of all sides can fortify agreements.
Over the past four weeks, this blog series has discussed the central stakeholder status of rural girls in the most pressing international issues. This autumn, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs will release a breakthrough new report on girls in rural economies. Revisiting the topics of our 2011 report Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies
, this new report will highlight a wide range of voices and feature case studies and stories from around the world and across sectors. Leading experts in land rights, economic development, robotics, and more will underline the central role of rural girls in the future of their field—and for all of us.
Read our previous posts in the Stakeholder Girls series: