Today, as we hear the news that Malala Yousafzai has been jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to speak up for the education of girls, people all over the world – girls, boys, men and women – are celebrating the International Day of the Girl. This is a day when we remember how much still needs to be done in the world to ensure that there is gender equality; and if anyone was in any doubt about the horrors and dangers that result from gender inequality, then they need only look at the news emerging from Iraq, as IS militants are reported to be raping girls, selling them into slavery, burying them alive, and turning into terrible reality their perceptions of girls as unequal beings.
Gender inequality is by no means restricted to small pockets of the Middle East – it is all around us, and when we scratch beneath the surface of domestic violence, of pay gaps, of imbalances in representation amongst policy-makers, we can find deep-rooted inequality. By drawing attention to the power of the girl – the human being who is most likely to suffer in war, disaster and poverty – we are saying that we can think, do and be differently as a human race, if only we value our girls.
It is common sense that if we value and treat all people with respect, we will have a world with more respectful, tolerant and equal relationships. The excesses of human depravity currently directed at so many girls in so many parts of the world tell us that this is an urgent task; our deepest fear in this respect is that if people, families and communities become so torn apart by what they experience, then at some point the damage that is caused will become irreparable and we will descend irrevocably into hatred, fear and cruelty.
We cannot allow this to happen. Our girls, though, are the answer; celebrate and empower them today.