Citing that every girl has within her possibilities that should flourish as she moves into adulthood, the United Nations Population Fund has called for urgent attention to those left behind by gender discrimination that systematically limits girls, now and across their lifetimes.

Issuing a statement on the occasion of the International Day of the Girl, UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem said, "These inequalities are also rife in terms of access to the internet, which girls still use less than boys - up to four times less in some countries. This digital divide compounds longstanding gender disparities." "Digital Generation, Our Generation" is the theme for the day this year. "Today, as we mark the International Day of the Girl, we celebrate girls in the digital generation. They are harnessing the power of new technologies to carve out a better future for all," Dr Kanem said. "But there are so many girls whose inherent power is unrealised," she said, adding,

"Their rights are denied, their choices and chance to thrive are undermined. As a result, we all miss out on what these girls could achieve, their gifts, vision, ingenuity and the passion they could offer to the world." The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how quickly inequalities can multiply. Under school closures, girls who lack internet access have seen losses in education, health information and care, Dr Kanem said. "In many places, girls being denied an education face increased risk of being married off against their will. The realisation of many rights is increasingly predicated on digital access, which can help girls find information, connect with peers, build social movements, explore their identities, track their periods and find help for harassment or violence."

Without such access, according to the UNFPA chief, girls face major barriers to achieving their sexual and reproductive health and rights and bodily autonomy. "Those in a refugee camp or poor community may have no option to nearby services that respond to their sexual and reproductive health needs with kindness and understanding," she said. "The anonymity of the online world may more readily overcome the shame or embarrassment they may feel in asking questions about sex or gender identity."

Maintaining that digital technologies have their downsides, Dr Kanem said girls with access to these technologies face mounting risks from various forms of cyber violence. "Access for girls with disabilities remains insufficient and local language availability is far too limited. These issues also reflect harmful gender power imbalances." "We must not tolerate a digital world that reinforces inequality," she said. She also urged everyone to use these tools to close the gender power gap for girls."

"Together, let's create a digital world that is accessible and safe for all, and build a future in which every girl is able to realise her full potential and power."

A version of this article appears in the print on October 11, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.