There are a lot of things to love about the United States, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of room improvement – especially for girls. In fact, according to a new report released by Save the Children on Tuesday, which was International Day of the Girl, the U.S. didn’t even rank among the top 10 (or even the top 20, for that matter) when it comes to places where girls thrive in the world.
Instead, the U.S. claimed the rather underwhelming #32 spot.
When determining the rankings, the international aid organization looked at a number of factors, including rates of child marriage, teen fertility, lower-secondary school completion, number of female lawmakers, and maternal mortality. Each of these factors are part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to end various global injustices by 2030.
The U.S.’s relatively low ranking — despite the fact that it’s home to the world’s largest economy — is largely due to our country’s high rate of teen pregnancies, relatively low number of female lawmakers, and maternal mortality rates. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, the U.S. is the only country that saw an increase in deaths during childbirth between 1990 and 2013.
Here’s the full Top 10:
One of the primary differences between the U.S. and the countries that top the list is the percentage of female lawmakers. By empowering girls from an early age to pursue positions of leadership, we bridge the large gap between the number of male and female lawmakers. As the study points out, “girls are often marginalized in household and public decision-making and their needs are under-represented in government. Girls may be uncomfortable expressing themselves, and when they do, they often aren’t heard or valued.”
Working to ensure that girls are empowered to speak up can have trickle down effects as well. According to the report, working with girls to amplify their voices is especially important during those pivotal teen years, when changing and increased responsibilities are often unaccompanied by more opportunities to take part in decision-making — whether that’s at home, in school, or other public spaces. It may come as no surprise then that this lack of an ability to take part in decision-making processes can lead to lower self-esteem and a lack of tools to speak up later in life.
Another key difference between the U.S. and countries that rank highest for girls is our relatively high rate of teen pregnancies. Since teen pregnancy often impedes a woman’s ability to get an education, climbing the ladder professionally can be next to impossible. Many experts hope that by providing girls with better access to sexual reproductive health services, included free contraception, the U.S. and other countries can help reduce the teen pregnancy rate in the process — and, thereby, increase educational and professional options for women.
Save the Children’s report provides an excellent starting point for meaningful change in the U.S. and around the world, but identifying problems and areas for improvement aren’t enough. As the report says, “girls’ voices must not just be heard: they must also be acted on.”
I can’t second that one enough.