World Population Day: Girl Power

Photo: Getty Images

By: Melissa Taveras

Investing in Teenage girls. That’s the focus and central theme this year on World Population Day, which advocates for Women’s Rights.

The world’s population is estimated to be 7.3 billion and will increase to 8.5 billion according to the United Nations Population Fund. Moreover, for the first time in history, more than 50% (1.8 billion) of the world’s population are youths, and of those nine out of 10 live in developing countries.

Women represent more than half of the urban population; yet don’t enjoy the equal rights and opportunities that are an inherent, universal human right. In fact, women are far from reaching parity on a number of issues, from equal pay to education.

Despite the challenges and difficulties accessing health care, education, and livable conditions a growing populous in developing countries face, women’s health is most affected by population growth.

One in every three girls will be married by the time she is 18, and most of these marriages are followed by pregnancy even if the girl isn’t mentally or physically able to endure childbirth. Many of these girls are more likely to encounter both physical and mental abuses, in addition to having to leave school to take care of domestic chores.

A whopping 74 million women and girls experience an unwanted pregnancy in developing countries, and more than 220 million women want, yet can’t access contraceptives.

The responsibilities of child rearing can be overwhelming for a girl who has not yet reached maturity. It poses a risk not only for their futures, but their survival. These girls face tireless persecution from religious institutions, and a patriarchal society who fails to see the rewards of an empowered community of women.

Although teenage girls are less likely to go to school than their male counterparts, they are healthier and more likely to emerge from poverty. Unfortunately, they represent two-thirds of the world’s illiterate. Not only does a lack of education render young girls at an economic disadvantage, it also affects their health, especially their reproductive health.

The number of countries with girls completing primary education has declined since 1999, yet 63% of women are still less likely to complete secondary education. If women were afforded an education, child marriages would drop by two-thirds and child deaths would be cut in half.

Women are fundamental in maintaining and creating a sustainable future for the rest of the world. Empowered women and girls are poised to better protect their families from emergencies stemming from forced migration, in addition to becoming the leaders and voices their communities are in dire need of.

World Population Day is celebrated every year on July 11th and this year highlights the challenges girls all over the world face and what viable solutions can ensure they aren’t left behind.

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