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A #NewNormal for Girls

2nd March 2020

As a proud SheDecides Champion, I would like share my vision of a #NewNormal this #SheDecidesDay: a world in which all girls grow up knowing they are of equal value to boys and are free to realise their ambitions and reach their full potential.

The #NewNormal will be a world where girls are able to make decisions about their bodies and lives, free from violence, discrimination and oppression. A world where girls and people of all genders can go about their day without fear of harassment or discrimination.

A world where everyone is free to decide when to have children and how many to have, if any. A world where laws ensure equal access to land, finance, inheritance and resources so that girls can be financially independent and build their own success.

My vision, and the vision of powerful girl activists around the world, is that the #NewNormal will mean no girl will be married before the age of 18 – and only then if she freely consents to it. That no girl will be subject to female genital mutilation or any form of gender-based violence. That a girl will NOT be valued for her chastity, fertility or marriageability – but for her character, intellect and potential.

It’s time that young women are in positions of power from boardrooms to governments and the media. It’s time the patriarchy is dispelled and for a society to rise in its place where opportunities are available and accessible to all, and where success is determined by meritocracy rather than according to patriarchal power structures.

In this #NewNormal, society will have rejected outdated and limiting stereotypes and there will be evermore powerful positive role-models who inspire girls to dream big and aim high.

Portrait of Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, SheDecides Champion

So how do achieve this #NewNormal?

First, we need to tackle the patriarchal obsession with trying to control female sexuality and instead ensure that all girls and women have autonomy over their bodies. Bodily autonomy is a precondition for gender equality and we will not achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals unless and until all girls and women are able to fully enjoy their sexual and reproductive health and rights in a safe and consensual way. To bring about this change, we must work with families, communities, parents, teachers and religious leaders to promote positive dialogue and a shift in attitudes.

Second, we must ensure that all children receive comprehensive sexuality education from an early age. This is essential for developing the skills and knowledge to make free and informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives, so that they can enjoy fulfilling and healthy relationships and protect themselves and their partners against ill health, violence and unwanted pregnancy. Love, passion, sex and pleasure are fundamental to human wellbeing: and this must be reflected in a broad curriculum that covers positive body image, self-respect and consent as well as the physical and anatomical elements of sex.

Third, we need to ensure that all adolescents and young people can access sexual and reproductive health services which are designed to meet their needs – including access to contraception and safe and legal abortion. Unsafe abortions contribute significantly to deaths among young women, and yet rarely recorded as a cause of death. If recorded at all, coded language such as ‘complications of pregnancy’ is often used. These services must be gender-responsive, rights-based and an integral part of universal health coverage.

When designing programmes and policies, we must ensure that girls and young women are meaningfully engaged and have the power to influence the decisions that directly impact on their lives. There also needs to be greater investment in and improved data collection on adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Younger adolescent girls (aged 10-14 years) are particularly overlooked and there is a need for targeted interventions to meet their needs. We need increased investment in SRHR services in humanitarian settings, in order to protect the most vulnerable girls and women. Rates of unintended adolescent pregnancy and child early and forced marriage starkly increase in times of crisis- in part due to the breakdown in support structures and services available. SRHR is a life-saving intervention and must be treated as such.

Finally, we need to stand firm and united against those seeking to roll back girls’ and women’s rights. We cannot stand by and let the minority de-rail the significant progress we have made over the last 25 years.

Let’s create a world where her #NewNormal is a life free from societal pressure, judgement, violence and fear – whatever decision she chooses to make.

Find out more about Plan International

Find out more about author Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen