Every year on 11 July, the world celebrates World Population Day (WPD) highlighting a specific important issue related to Population and Development. WPD was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly when the world population reached 5 billion people in 1987. This year’s theme was: “Investing in Adolescent Girls.”
This theme was a result of the recognition that adolescent girls (age 10-19) are a critical demographic group, representing one-eighth of the world population and nearly 15% in Africa, Several factors highlight the importance of focusing on adolescent girls, including:
⦁ A large proportion of girls grow up in low-income countries, with existing social and cultural barriers to their development, poor quality education and health systems, and limited or non-existent reproductive health goods and services.
⦁ Influenced by the era of technology that has raised awareness on their basic rights and empowered them with a larger vision of what their lives could be, high expectations from parents and other parts of society are placed on adolescent girls.
In addition to this, adolescent girls face numerous unique challenges.
In some parts of the world, a girl who reaches puberty is deemed by her family or community as ready for marriage, pregnancy and childbirth. She may be married off and forced to leave school. She may suffer a debilitating condition, such as obstetric fistula from delivering a child before her body is ready for it.
Without education, in poor health, and with little or no control over her own body, her future can be easily derailed, and her potential may never be realized. The challenges and obstacles faced by an adolescent girl multiply if she is a member of an ethnic minority, lives in a rural setting or is from a poor household.
But when an adolescent girl is empowered with the means and information to make her own decisions, she is more likely to realize her full potential and become a positive force for change in her home, community and nation.
Policies and investments in education and health that empower adolescent girls and create economic conditions that lead to jobs are particularly important in countries with large, emerging youth populations. Such countries have the potential to realize a demographic dividend, bolstering and speeding up economic growth.
A demographic dividend is realized when a boost in economic development occurs due to larger numbers of people of working age than below or above working age. Maximizing the dividend depends on the empowerment of people through education, provision of viable employment opportunities, and significant investments in productive resources.
The celebration of the 2016 WPD has particular relevance to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that has nearly 9.5 million girls aged 10-19. These girls face numerous challenges including early marriage and pregnancy, lack of education, and gender-based violence (GBV).
This year’s WPD involved the following activities:
• A panel discussion involving multiple UN agencies (July 11);
• An official ceremony including a presentation outlining the importance of this year’s WPD theme (July 11);
• A presentation on the demographic dividend by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) in collaboration with UNFPA (July 11);
• Providing a platform for adolescent girls to voice their opinions and speak for themselves, including invitations to speak or write about the challenges they are facing and how to tackle them (July 11);
• Launching of a social media campaign to further raise awareness on the specific needs of adolescent girls, including information sharing on sexual reproductive health information and services (before, during and after July 11);
• Engaging with the media by developing media kits that included information about the success of youth-led organizations. In addition, press conferences were held to speak out about the specific needs of girls (before, during and after July 11);
• Encouraging government officials to make public declarations on the important need for investing in the girl (July 11).
The results of the 2014 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) show that in DRC among girls aged 15-19, 24 per cent are already married or living in union, and 27 per cent have given birth or became pregnant and consequently forced to leave school.
It is critical to note: “the new development agenda calls on us to leave no one behind. To reach those furthest behind, leaders and communities must focus on and stand up for the human rights of the most marginalized teenage girls, particularly those who are poor, out of school, exploited, or subjected to harmful traditional practices, including child marriage. Marginalized girls are vulnerable to poor reproductive health and more likely to become mothers while still children themselves. They have a right to understand and control their own bodies and shape their own lives.”
Policymakers play an important role in ensuring that human rights are universal and enjoyed by all, including adolescent girls. Communities, non-governmental organizations, youth-led groups, activists, faith-based institutions and adolescent girls themselves also have a vital role to play in shaping policies that affect their lives and making sure that these policies are translated into tangible, positive transformation. UNFPA is committed to promoting and protecting those rights and empowering adolescent girls to determine their own destiny.
⦁ Highlights of the WPD celebration in the DRC
2.1. Address to the Nation
On the eve of World Population Day H.E the Minister of Planning and Modernity Revolution addressed the nation. His speech included the following highlights:
⦁ Recalling the history behind WPD and its importance;
⦁ Presenting the 2016 theme “Investing in Adolescent Girls”;
⦁ Highlighting the number of adolescent girls married before age 18 by region:
⦁ 59 million in Asia and the Pacific;
⦁ 8 million in East and Southern Africa;
⦁ 8 million in West and Central Africa;
⦁ 7 million in Latin America and the Caribbean;
⦁ 3 million in the Arab States;
⦁ 1 million in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
⦁ Presenting the situation of adolescent girls in the DRC with nearly 9.5 million girls aged 10-19 facing numerous challenges including early marriage and pregnancy, lack of education, and gender-based violence.
⦁ Recalling the interventions of the DRC Government in collaboration with development partners to better meet the needs of affected adolescent girls and reduce their vulnerability to various issues affecting them;
Launching a strong call-to-action for all development actors to invest in adolescent girls in the DRC. This is especially critical given that adolescence is an important phase of life where tools for self-development are essential if their full potential is to be achieved.
⦁ Reiterating the commitment of the DRC Government to provide sufficient response and interventions to the specific needs of adolescent girls all over the country.
The WPD event was held under the leadership of the Minister of Planning and Modernity Revolution in collaboration with the DRC UNFPA Country Office. Government officials attended the ceremony, including ministers from the Ministry of Family and Education, Chiefs of missions, UN system representatives, public administration officials, representatives of local and international NGOs, and a large number of youth leaders from youth-centred organizations and associations of Kinshasa.
The highlights of the ceremony:
⦁ A message from the UN USG/UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin read by the DRC UNFPA Representative;
⦁ A message from UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon read by the Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative;
⦁ The state’s report on the current analysis of conditions faced by adolescent girls in DRC;
⦁ A personal message from an adolescent girl on issues affecting adolescent girls and the potential solutions to these issues;
⦁ A speech by H.E Vice-Minister of Planning.
2.2 Panel meeting with the UN representatives
A meeting with the UN representatives took place as part of the WPD events. By the initiative of the UNFPA Representative, the meeting was organized to create a platform for idea exchanging and dialogue on adolescent girls and how the UN joint partnership in DRC could strengthen its collaboration. The UN Resident Coordinator as well as the Representatives present expressed their appreciation to the UNFPA Representative for this initiative.
The following recommendations were made to improve the adolescent girls programme in the DRC.
At the strategic level:
⦁ Developing a plan for the 2017-2020 humanitarian response presents an opportunity to integrate the responses for various populations, especially women, girls, and adolescent girls in particular.
⦁ Strengthening the synergies of intervention with the programmes targeted to benefit adolescent girls supported by USAID, UK and the EU.
⦁ Facilitating the mapping of actual programmes for adolescent girls in DRC.
⦁ Developing a compendium of best practices that have proved their cost-effectiveness in transforming the conditions of adolescent girls.
⦁ Holding a conference for donors with a focus on investing in adolescent girls.
⦁ Strengthening the joint communication strategy on adolescent girls focusing on the upcoming International Youth Day on August 12 and the International Day of the Girl on October 11.
⦁ Providing concrete actions to the discussion on the demographic dividend, in particular relating to investing in the health and education of adolescent girls.
At the operating level:
⦁ Strengthening the inter-agency collaboration for the prevention, testing and treatment of HIV among young people and adolescent girls.
⦁ Working on gender standards for exchange among different demographic groups in society.
⦁ Undertaking studies on adolescence from a cultural viewpoint in order to identify opportunities and threats to adolescent girls in the social and cultural context of the DRC.
Next steps for UNFPA:
⦁ Ensure inclusion of the issues facing adolescent girls as an integral part of 2017-2020 humanitarian response.
⦁ Take the lead in the mapping exercise of programmes targeting adolescent girls, and the creation of a compendium of best practices.
⦁ Continue strong advocacy for investing in adolescent girls’ health and education in order to create the foundation for realizing the demographic dividend.
2.3. 2016 WPD key messages
A. Message from the UN USG/UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
read by DRC UNFPA Representative
THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MESSAGE ON WORLD POPULATION DAY
11 July 2016
The adolescent years are for some girls a time of exploration, learning and increasing autonomy. But for many others, it is a time of increasing vulnerability and exclusion from rights and opportunities, or just plain discrimination.
When an adolescent girl has the power, the means and the information to make her own decisions in life, she is more likely to overcome obstacles that stand between her and a healthy, productive future. This will benefit her as an individual, her family and her community.
When she has no say in decisions about her education, health, work or even marital status, she may never realize her full potential or become a positive force for transformation in her home, community and nation.
In some parts of the world, a girl who reaches puberty is deemed by her family or community as ready for marriage, pregnancy and childbirth. She may be married off and forced to leave school. She may suffer a debilitating condition, such as fistula, from delivering a child before her body is ready for it. She may be denied her human rights.
Governments everywhere need to invest in adolescent girls in ways that empower them to make important life decisions and equip them to one day earn a living, become active participants in their communities, and be treated as equals to their male counterparts.
Investments are needed to protect their health, including their sexual and reproductive health, In addition, they must have access to quality education that allows them to expand their economic opportunities.
An adolescent girl whose rights are respected and who is able to realize her full potential is a girl who is more likely to contribute to the economic and social progress of her community and nation.
B. Message from the UN Secretary General read by RDC Resident Coordinator
THE SECRETARY-GENERAL’S MESSAGE ON WORLD POPULATION DAY
11 July 2016
The international community has committed to a new sustainable development agenda built on the principles of equity and human rights. A central objective of the Sustainable Development Goals is to leave no one behind.
Despite significant gains made in reducing poverty and improving opportunity and well-being for many people around the world, hundreds of millions remain desperate for a chance of a better future. Among those least served by previous development initiatives are girls, particularly those in their formative adolescent years.
When girls should be in school and imagining the possibilities ahead, too many are held back from pursuing their ambitions by social and cultural traps. While a boy’s options and opportunities tend to expand when he becomes an adolescent, those of a girl too often shrink. Half of all sexual assaults worldwide are committed against girls aged 15 or younger. In developing countries, one in three girls is married before she reaches 18. And teenage girls are less likely than teenage boys to start or finish secondary school.
Rectifying these inequalities is critical for the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. That is why it includes the specific goal of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. On this World Population Day, I urge all governments, businesses and civil society to support and invest in adolescent girls. Everyone deserves the benefits of economic growth and social progress. Let us work together to ensure a life of security, dignity and opportunity for all.
C. State’s report on the current conditions faced by adolescent girls in DRC
Professor Lututala focused his intervention on 3 points:
⦁ Why investing in adolescent girls is critical.
⦁ How the DRC takes adolescent girls into account when developing government policies and programmes.
⦁ The prospects anticipated to meet this situation.
The reasons for investing in adolescent girls include:
⦁ Adolescent girls (aged 10-19) are an important demographic group comprising 7.2 % of the Congolese population; (14.5 % adolescent girls aged 10-24 (DHS 2013);
⦁ It is imperative that we ensure the rights of every adolescent girl under the principle of “leaving no one behind”
⦁ Adolescent girls have the solution to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty SDG1 (no poverty); SDG2 (no famine); SDG3 (good health and well-being); SDG4 (quality education); SDG5 (gender equality); SDG6 (clean water and sanitation); SDG7 (decent jobs and economic growth); etc.
Observations by the DRC on issues related to adolescent girls:
⦁ Trends suggest that strategies such as enhancing the macro-economic framework, improving infrastructures, etc that have a positive impact of better redistribution of wealth are beneficial.
⦁ There are very few policies on adolescent girls.
⦁ Socio-cultural tendencies in the Congolese society still favour males.
The way forward:
⦁ Gender inequalities need to be addressed through education (knowledge sharing and creation of new values); training and awareness of women, men, young people, media, opinion leaders such as musicians, pastors, etc.; law enforcement need to be sensitized on gender equality and work against gender inequalities in society (e.g. CEDEF, Constitution of the DRC, Article 14, Law on gender equality); and the fight against poverty and vulnerability must continue through income generating activities and women and girls’ empowerment.
⦁ Adolescent girls’ empowerment should involve creating avenues for them to be an active part of national efforts to tackle poverty as well as their active involvement in decision-making bodies.
D. Message from the adolescent girls’ delegate
In a short speech, an adolescent girl addressed those present emphasizing the need for investing in adolescent girls like herself. She presented data outlining the realities for young girls including: one out of five adolescent girls is a mother, 43% of women currently in union were married before age 18, and half of new HIV infections in the world affect adolescent girls and young people.
She also pointed out that investing in Congolese adolescent girls must include investments in education to allow young women to cultivate essential skills and participate in the development of the country. Other key elements of her presentation included:
⦁ Invest more in adolescent girls health, mainly in reproductive health services to allow girls to escape unwanted pregnancies and HIV infections;
⦁ Create a supportive environment to protect adolescent girls against all forms of abuse ranging from early and/or forced marriage to gender-based violence;
⦁ Finally, give them the same possibilities and opportunities as their brothers.
After the presentation, the forum was opened for an open discussion with participants. The following points were raised in the discussion that ensued:
⦁ The need for taking into account the general situation of poverty the country is facing to implement adequate strategies in favour of adolescent girls;
⦁ The need for the education of adolescent girls in order to stop the vicious cycle of early pregnancies and marriages;
⦁ The need for the government to widen the strategy of free college education in order to delay the age of marriage of adolescent girls;
⦁ Strengthening public private partnerships (PPP) as a means of identifying adequate interventions in favour of adolescent girls.
F. Key messages from the Minister of Planning
The speech of the Vice-Minister of Planning focused on the following points:
⦁ The situational analysis of the living conditions of adolescent girls worldwide and in the DRC.
⦁ A review of the interventions of the DRC Government, in collaboration with their development partners, that specifically benefit adolescent girls by focusing on resources granted to improve the access of vulnerable populations to the basic health services, including maternal, new-born and child health, sexual and reproductive health, food security, nutrition, and education in order to eliminate poverty and find sustainable solutions.
⦁ Recalling the commitment of the DRC in September 2015, during the ratification of new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to advocate for the rights of marginalized and uneducated adolescent girls. This is a national priority and a part of the national strategic development plan.
⦁ Expressed gratitude to UNFPA for their permanent support to the government to take into account the needs of adolescent girls and call for development players to invest in adolescent girls in the DRC.
⦁ Reiterating the fact that well-educated girls have the opportunity to achieve their potential and claim their basic rights. They marry later, delay their first pregnancy, have healthy children, and earn a higher income. They represent a force for change in achieving the demographic dividend in our country.
2.4 Workshop on the steps needed to achieve the demographic dividend in the DRC
A high level seminar on the role of the demographic dividend for the emergence of the DRC was held by Professor Jacques EMINA of the University of Kinshasa. He presented the results of a study the department of Population and Development Sciences (DSPD) of the Economics Department carried out together with the US-based NGO Population Reference Bureau (PRB).
The study used different data sources including the demographic projections of the United Nations Population Division, the 2013-2014 Demographic and Health Survey, and the Socio-Economic Data of the World Bank.
Key elements of the development vision of the country laid out in the National Strategic Development Plan were outlined. They included the aim of the DRC to become:
⦁ A mid-income country with USD 1036 GDP per capita in 2021 through the transformation of agriculture by decreasing fertility;
⦁ An emerging country by 2030 with USD 4000 GDP per capita through intensive industrialization by accelerating the Demographic Transition;
⦁ A developed country by 2050 with USD 12000 GDP per capita.
The study shows that the demographic dividend may foster an accelerated economic growth. However the country needs to improve its reproductive health indicators as well as access to family planning, and accelerate fertility transition in order to modify the age group by reducing the dependence ratio per age.
The study made the following recommendations:
⦁ A general census of the population and habitat to collect updated and reliable data and allow for analysis and more accurate reflection of the demographic situation of the country;
⦁ The adoption of a population policy in order to achieve the demographic dividend;
⦁ The repositioning of the family planning;
⦁ The extension and strengthening of youth-focused programmes, and the access and availability of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.