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What’s on the agenda for the coming year: Three takeaways from UNGA75

PICTURED: UN General Assembly Hall. Photo: Patrick Gruban, cropped and downsampled by Pine. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This year, the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA75) looked very different to previous years, with the majority of events and meetings taking place online. This virtual format did not, however, stop world leaders from having key discussions on global challenges – including racism, intolerance, inequality, climate change, poverty, hunger and armed conflict – the areas needing urgent action, and how best to work together to address these.

While the COVID-19 pandemic was central to discussions, UNGA75 also provided a crucial space to mark 2020 as the start to the Sustainable Development Goal Decade of Action – with only 10 years to go to achieve their 2030 targets – and organise key summits on climate change and gender equality.

So what did UNGA75 tell us about the priorities of the international community for the coming year?

We joined a wide range of events and discussions over the opening two weeks of UNGA75 to get a sense of what will be shaping the international development agenda for the next year and how child marriage fits into this. Here are our top three takeaways:

1. There was high-level focus on child marriage, but civil society needs to maintain pressure on governments to keep it on the agenda

We were pleased to see child marriage raised by governments, multilateral organisations and civil society across UNGA75 events as a cause for concern and significant barrier to girls fully enjoying their rights.

This was amplified after the Governments of Canada and Zambia came together with UNFPA and UNICEF to host a high-level event on “Child, early and forced marriage and the COVID-19 p.” Girls Not Brides CEO Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell joined government representatives, youth activists and civil society organisations (CSOs) to discuss the drastic impact of COVID-19 on child marriage.

“Girls younger than me are getting married and being stripped away from their rights.” Sandhya Saroj, youth activist from India

Dr. Mwangi-Powell spoke at the event on the importance of supporting CSOs working with girls and communities affected by child marriage during the pandemic.

What does this mean for the child marriage movement over the next year?

We hope the high-level focus on child marriage during UNGA75 will lead the way for governments and the UN to invest resources and political will into the issue. However, it is crucial that civil society maintains pressure on both champion governments and those that are not yet as supportive to ensure child marriage does not fall off the agenda.

2. Gender equality will be a key area of focus for the global community over the coming year

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and Beijing Platform for Action, and UNGA75 included a high-level meeting dedicated to gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment.

This meeting was originally planned as part of a series of events to commemorate the occasion throughout 2020, but due to the pandemic some have been postponed until next year, so keep up with the Generation Equality process and key moments to target your advocacy over the coming months. You can also reference our brief on child marriage and gender equality in your work.

The UN Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women led an array of high-level speakers, spotlighting the importance of addressing gender-based violence in the Generation Equality process.

“One woman in three still experiences some form of violence in her lifetime. Every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18.” António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations

Girls Not Brides worked with the Adolescent Girls Investment Plan coalition to hold two events over the opening weeks of UNGA75, highlighting the importance of identifying actions on issues affecting adolescent girls – including child marriage – and ensuring that the voices of adolescent girls are central to the Generation Equality process.

“In order to achieve economic justice, girls and youth need to be consulted to understand our needs and priorities and ensure that our superior interest is considered, just like the Rights Convention recommends.” María José Yac García Las Niñas Lideran Guatemala, 17 years old

What does this mean for the child marriage movement over the next year?

With the continuation of the Generation Equality process, gender equality will be a big focus for the international development world over the next year. This provides a critical opportunity to stress to world leaders and governments the importance of acting on gender and child marriage and focusing on adolescent girls, and to ensure that they are held to account beyond 2021.

3. COVID-19 will dominate government and donor priorities for the immediate future

A central theme throughout UNGA was the impact of COVID-19 across the world and the implications for all areas of life.

UNFPA has estimated 13 million more girls may marry because of COVID-19 and associated restrictions by 2030. You can find out more about the impact of the pandemic on adolescent girls in our brief on the issue.

At Girls Not Brides we used our platforms during UNGA75 to call for governments and donors to direct flexible funding and support to civil society organisations working with girls and their communities during this crisis.

What does this mean for the child marriage movement over the next year?

COVID-19 will dominate government and donor priorities for the immediate future. Civil society will need to find a way to ensure the full spectrum of rights and needs of adolescent girls are considered within global and national response plans to prevent child marriage rates rapidly increasing.

What else was discussed during UNGA75?

Other leading topics emerging throughout the opening weeks of UNGA75 included girls’ education, climate change and humanitarian crises. We see all of these continuing to remain priority development issues over the next year, competing for international and national funds, resources and political attention. At Girls Not Brides we will continue to share learnings and recommendations for incorporating child marriage responses into these fields.

Feature image: UN General Assembly. Photo: Patrick Gruban, cropped and downsampled by Pine. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.