Why girls?

MDG Advocacy Group Meeting, Davos 23 January 2014

Check against delivery

Secretary-General, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Millennium Declaration adopted some 14 years ago was an unprecedented show of global unity.

At the turn of the millennium, world leaders came together and simply made a decision to fight poverty in all its manifestations.

What a great objective.

And what a difference the Millennium Development Goals have made.

The clear, concrete and measurable goals have mobilised an unprecedented level of resources for development.

The results are formidable.

Never before has the world seen such a rapid increase in the number of children attending school. Major progress has also been made in reducing gender gaps in terms of primary school attendance and literacy, but girls are still disadvantaged.

Investing in education enhances the effects of efforts to meet all the MDGs and can be a real game changer in the fight against poverty. Nelson Mandela taught us many things. His statement that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world is particularly relevant here today.

Inspired by Mandela and building on the wisdom of many, it can be argued that investing in girls’ education is the ultimate investment in positive change. The old saying “teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is all well and good. But in this day and age, we know that when you invest in a girl’s education, she feeds herself, her children, her community and her nation, charting a path towards a better world in which human rights are respected and there is dignity for all.

That is why delivering education to all girls is so vital.

Success in providing education for girls is closely linked to success in other fields of development, especially health. Educated young women have smaller families and healthier children. They are less likely to die in childbirth, more likely to send their children to school, and better able to protect themselves and their children from malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation.

I have received a lot of good advice from Norwegian civil society organisations when it comes to the challenges that war, conflict and natural disasters pose for the prospects of reaching the MDGs. All of them seem to agree that in such contexts and situations where people suffer, girls suffer the most. And in such contexts, girls with physical disabilities are in the most vulnerable situation of all. At the same time, the NGOs were crystal clear on the fact that women and girls are not primarily victims – but rather a resource and key to poverty eradication and sustainable development.

A lot of hard work has produced good results towards reaching the health MDGs.

The number of children dying before the age of five has been halved since 1990. Today this means that each year, six million children who in the past would have died before their fifth birthday, now survive. To put this in perspective, six million people is more than the total population of Norway.

What is perhaps most encouraging is the fact that progress in this area is accelerating. In sub-Saharan Africa, progress is now five times faster than it was in 1990.

That said, one child lost is one too many. We need to make new concerted effort to prevent child mortality. A great deal remains to be done.

The good news is that we still have two years ahead of us. Two years to do the hard work that is needed, before the deadline for the current MDGs.

We must all contribute. We must all walk the talk. For my part, I will do my utmost to accelerate the efforts towards achieving the MDGs, both as co-chair of the MDG Advocacy Group and as Prime Minister of Norway.

Norway’s development budget for this year is 1 % of its estimated GNI. The Millennium Development Goals will guide our efforts. We are determined to achieve results in the areas that matter the most.

This year we will increase our investment in education significantly. A large share of this funding will target girls. Over the coming years, we will strengthen our efforts to secure access to high-quality education for girls and young women.

Before closing, Mr Secretary-General, I would like to stress that our common global task now should be to make sure that we mobilise, and put to good use, every relevant and available resource, opportunity and idea in a sustained, final sprint to the goal line.

Thank you.