“The Most Invisible Entity” : EU Focuses on Girl Children

Anna Wilkowska-Landowska

This summer, the European Council adopted a set of indicators to monitor the advancement of girls' rights to access education and sexual and reproductive health care, and to ensure the eradication of child sexual exploitation.

This summer, on June 9, 2008,
the European Council adopted a set of indicators to monitor the advancement of girls’ rights to access education and sexual and reproductive health care and to ensure the eradication of child sexual exploitation.

A set of actions for the advancement
of women in various areas of their lives was agreed to at the United Nations
World Conference on Women in 1995, as the follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action. Then, in December 1995, the European
Council of the European Union concluded that the implementation
of the Beijing Platform for Action, in the Member States and institutions
of the European Union would be reviewed on an annual basis. Since 1999
the Council has adopted conclusions on indicators and benchmarks, thus
making the annual monitoring process more focused and structured. Sets
of quantitative and qualitative indicators have been developed by the
EU presidencies in themes, relating to the 12 critical areas of concern
of the Beijing Platform for Action (a few examples: in 2000 the
French Presidency adopted indicators on women in the economy, or the reconciliation of work and family
life, in 2002 Danish Presidency adopted indicators on violence against women or in 2004 the Dutch Presidency adopted
indicators on sexual harassment in the workplace).  

And this year, the European
Council has looked at the next critical area of concern specified in
the follow-up to the Beijing
Platform for Action — the girl child.
The girl child as a social group is declared to be the most invisible
entity in society and as such is left behind in human development. The
two most important international instruments for girls’ rights, the Convention on
the Rights of the Child

(CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination Against Women

(CEDAW), are not being implemented adequately. The issue of the girl
child is regionally and locally conditioned and it is therefore insufficient
to address it at the level of the state. Therefore the above-mentioned
document relates to age segmentation, since it confirms that many interventions
target young children or older adolescents. As a result, many at-risk
girls between the age of 6 and 14 years are left out.  

In the Conclusions on the Girl Child, the Council stresses, among other
things, that access to sexual and reproductive health care and education,
and the elimination of all forms of violence against the girl child,
including trafficking, are crucial for the empowerment of girls and
women, and encourages the member states to develop sexual and relationship
education. The Conclusions contain three indicators to monitor
and improve the position of girls in the EU:

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1. Sex and
relationship education:
parameters of sexuality-related education in
schooling (primary and secondary)
— assesses
the sex and relationship education provided in school programs and analyses the key elements
of such education which plays an important role in the development of the girl child’s
sexual and reproductive health, and gender roles and relations, and is therefore
a necessary prerequisite for gender equality.

2. Body self-image: dissatisfaction
of girls and boys with their bodies —
different self-perception of girls and boys regarding their body
image, which has implications for public health. Girls’ and young
women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies does
not always reflect a physical condition, but may be the result of culturally
imposed norms and images which are significantly influenced by the media.
It is therefore important to tackle the reasons underlying the dissatisfaction
of girls and boys with their bodies.

3. Educational accomplishments:
comparison of 15-year-old students’ performance in
and science and the proportion of girl students in tertiary education
in the
of science, mathematics and computing and in the field of
teacher training and
education science — addresses the discrepancy between the
aptitude of girls in mathematics and science literacy (which does not
significantly differ from that of boys), as compared with their subsequent
choice of further educational field at the tertiary level, where boys
and girls continue to follow traditional educational paths. The indicator
helps to assess the potential impact of policies and measures to encourage
both girls and boys to explore non-traditional educational paths and
thus to use their talents and potential to the full. 

All these indicators help to
focus country’s efforts in relation to the girl child status, and
urge further actions
to be taken to protect and empower the girl children. First of all, there
should be measures adopted to prevent and eradicate child prostitution
and pornography, as well as actions to enable girls, including pregnant
girls and teenage mothers, to continue their education. It is also necessary
to provide information and services to girls with regard to sexually
transmitted diseases, as well as reproductive and sexual health. For
example, education programs on sexual and reproductive health have been
developed in the Czech Republic or Latvia. The Czech Republic also established
programs to educate young people about HIV/AIDS. Looking at the situation
in many Eastern European countries (very recent examples from Romania
and Poland, but also many others which we do not know about), it is
clear that information campaigns and workshops to prevent teenage pregnancy
have to be launched.  

Whether the indicators prepared
by the European Union institutions really work in practice or are helpful
in analysing the progress made, is still difficult to assess, but
it seems to me that any type of guidance which is more concrete and
explicit in terms of benchmarks may prove to be more effective than
declarations contained in various international documents. The EU has
always played a role of a guardian of commonly accepted rules and standards;
let’s just hope it will be more demanding towards its member states
with regard to the critical areas of concern described in the Beijing
Platform for Action and its adequate implementation. The status of the girl
child in many countries has not been discussed at all, so the above
documents should be understood as a first little step in a good direction,
although, as mentioned above, more intensive steps have to be yet undertaken.

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