Delivering the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals for adolescent girls

This post, written by Sarah Hendriks, Global Gender Advisor at Plan International, is the eleventh in our blog series which aims to explore how the Sustainable Development Goals can be implemented to include all social and economic groups.


Following many months of consultation and negotiation, the global community has reached an historic moment. We can see that great progress has been made in advancing a comprehensive and inclusive framework. The goals and targets bring the rights of a diverse global population into focus and identify the key global challenges that are currently hindering progress towards just, equitable and sustainable development.

The SDGs have been put forward as a ‘transformative’ agenda that incorporates the needs and concerns of all people and groups, including those who were left behind by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, this great promise of the SDGs can only be delivered if the financing, partnerships, implementation, and accountability measures are put in place to transform ‘leave no one behind’ from a lofty principle into the modus operandi of all sustainable development actors.

Among those left behind by the MDGs is the critical demographic of adolescent girls, who we know from decades of research are important to any effort to achieve sustainable development.  Recent studies have shown that the discrimination and marginalization faced by many adolescent girls results from the intersecting identities they hold as young people, females, and a multitude of other variables including ethnicity, disability, location and orientation.  While the SDGs now better reflect the rights and needs of adolescent girls, this alone is not enough to ensure they are not left behind.

Other blogs in this series have mentioned the need for stronger data collection and measurement, and these are essential demands that should be met.  We must also take a careful look at the ways in which we are measuring progress and assess whether the current indicators truly represent and measure the lived realities of those on the margins, including adolescent girls. If we are to achieve the transformative agenda defined by the Sustainable Development Goals, it must include ambitious indicators that effectively measure the real impact of policies, strategies, and practices to ensure that the post-2015 agenda truly reaches everyone, especially those who need it the most – adolescent girls.

Looking at the proposed indicators, we can see that although all forms of data, including indicators and collection methods, have significantly improved since the MDGs, there is still an affinity to go for the low hanging fruit – to track only the easiest-to-measure parts of these progressive and often complex targets.

If we want indicators that are relevant to adolescent girls’ ability to live their lives to their fullest potential, the global community will need to support the development of new indicators, as well as the adaptation of existing ones.  Age ranges will have to be expanded to include the often invisible 10-14 year olds, who are considered girls but are often catapulted into adulthood through child marriage or early pregnancy.  Yet almost no indicators include 10-14 in their target age ranges, including those on issues identified by girls themselves as extremely important, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Improved data for girls will also require both quantitative and qualitative data, as perceptions of safety and access to services often reflects how well programs are being implemented.  In Plan International’s Technical Report, Hear Our Voices, girls across 11 countries identified early pregnancy as their most critical concern.  In addition, over half of girls interviewed said that they and their peers never or seldom decide if they become pregnant.  While proposed indicators track the rates of adolescent pregnancy, they don’t necessarily address girls’ agency or ability to make decisions which affect their own lives, including if and when to have children.

The Girl Declaration Joint Advocacy Group, among others, have strongly advocated for an enhanced set of indicators for data collection and use, as well as a minimum set of core indicators as essential to ensure that the lives of adolescent girls are properly and holistically understood, and that adolescent girls have access to the programs, services and care they require, as well as have the ability to realize and exercise the full range of their human rights.

If the SDG agenda is to transform the world, and reach marginalized communities such as adolescent girls, the indicators and data developed for reporting on the Sustainable Development Agenda must track the issues most important to their lives. While quantitative data is important, and existing measurements might be cheaper and easier to use, we already know they are missing large pieces of the picture for many of the world’s most marginalized.

Furthermore, Plan International and ODI’s joint report on ‘Young People’s engagement in strengthening accountability for the post-2015 agenda’, argues that involving children and young people, including adolescent girls, in the monitoring, follow up and review of the SDGs will not only strengthen accountability, but will also strengthen implementation, improve outcomes, and fulfill the right of adolescent girls to participate in decisions that affect them.

This is because we have learned that the only true method to determine what is important to girls, and to find out if their needs are being met, is to ask girls themselves, and then be accountable to them. By measuring what matters and fulfilling girls’ right to be heard, we can ensure that the SDGs truly ensure that no adolescent girl is left behind.

1 Comment on "Delivering the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals for adolescent girls"

  1. Reblogged this on Angietouch's Blog and commented:
    Today’s adolescent girls will be tomorrow’s mothers. Effectively including them in the SDGs not only allows them to benefit from them but to own all its attributes for the next generation. #noonebehind

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