Her Excellency Joyce Banda, Champion and Former President of Malawi, 2016.
During this period of reflection for ending violence against women and girls I’d like to speak to you about pre-adolescent girls, the harmful norms they face, and the need for better research and data around them. As we look forward to implementing the SDGs by 2030, we must look back to the missteps in our undertaking of the MDGs that let the girls of this world down. This includes—most unfortunately—our lack of attention toward socialization and cultural norms at the household and community level.
A recent study of girls aged five to twelve in more than 200 countries over 40 years found that rather than poverty, cultural norms were the stronger determinants of girls’ under-enrollment in school. To reach SDGs 3, 4, and 5 we should expand focus to look at pre-adolescent girls and acknowledge the role of harmful attitudes and traditions in the most formative years of their lives. We need a research agenda that places pre-adolescent girls at the center of policy to address harmful cultural practices—both as an issue of gender based violence and also as an impediment to girls reaching their potential
When girls are taught in the framework of certain cultural practices to lower their eyes and to sexually please men, forced into marriage or enslaved to a shrine as atonement their rights to education, health and personal dignity go out the window at an early age. This is a disadvantage boys do not have, and it is one that establishes inequality long before the girl child becomes a teenager.
Improving norms at the household and community levels will be a big step toward ensuring girls' well-being, quality education, and equality.