By Lauren Salmiery
Five years after the global population soared past 7 billion people, countries around the world are coming together to raise awareness about population issues on World Population Day—commemorated each year on July 11. This year’s theme is investing in teenage girls – a demographic of our global community that faces a multitude of challenges.
Across continents, teenage girls struggle from injustices of many kinds. Child marriage threatens the livelihoods and futures of girls in the direst circumstances. Lack of access to comprehensive reproductive health education encourages STD transmission and teen pregnancy. Prohibitive cost of sanitary towels prevents girls from attending school during their menstrual cycles, which often causes them to drop out. Cultural stigmas around contraception and abortion prevent teenage girls from accessing the full range of reproductive healthcare. The horrific practice of female genital mutilation in some parts of the world limits girls’ chances of having a healthy life, and the experience traumatizes many for the rest of their lives.
In limiting a teenage girl’s access to basic rights such as healthcare and healthy childhood development, we limit her opportunities to complete her education, to provide for her future family, and ultimately to live up to her full potential. Marginalized girls need empowerment and autonomy – without further delay.
We have the responsibility to ensure that teenage girls are no longer victims of discrimination, violence, and abuse, and that they have the chance to be agents of change in their communities and in our world. As we acknowledge World Population Day this year, we must embrace the impact that teenage girls have on our planet. Autonomy, reproductive choice, and access to opportunity are all important to empowering teenage girls to live full lives – regardless of where they live. When a girl has the opportunity and skill to decide for herself what is best for her personal development and success, she is more likely to finish her schooling, contribute to her community, and make a positive impact on the global economy. When she doesn’t face violence or early marriage or pregnancy, when she has access to full reproductive rights, and when her access to education is not hindered, a girl can change the world.
When we look towards a future of equality, universal healthcare access, and guaranteed safety for women and girls around the world, we are looking at a future of prosperity, happiness, and a chance at success for every person on the planet. Providing each teenage girl with an equal opportunity to complete her education and live a safe, healthy life is undoubtedly the strongest investment a country can make in its people. When we come together as a global community to demand this investment, we make the world a much better place for generations to come.
Photo: © 2016 Sarah Hoibak/VectorWorks, Courtesy of Photoshare