Today, Thursday 11th October 2012, is the very first International Day of the Girl, and it is most definitely worth celebrating.
How this came about was in part because of extensive lobbying of the United Nations by Plan UK (part of Plan International), the charity which we have been supporting in school over the past 2 years, and it makes complete sense to have a day that focuses solely on girls across the world. Although it is easy for us to forget this, girls across the world face double discrimination due to their gender and their age, and are the most marginalised and discriminated group across the globe. We mustn’t forget that 75 million girls in the world are denied an education.
Girls supporting girls can make a real difference: thanks to the work girls in my school have been doing, and the work that has gone on in other girls’ schools since we also made Plan the GSA charity, when I was President last year, we have together raised over £103,000, which will be used to send no fewer than 1072 girls to school in Liberia who otherwise would not have been able to go. This is a tangible difference, and a cause for celebration in its own right.
This new world day of the Girl will help to prioritise girls’ rights as the salient issue in the coming decades – as the Plan Chief Executive Officer said, “By designating October 11th as Day of the Girl we are all agreeing to put a special focus on the rights of girls throughout the world. We know that in many countries girls get left behind in all areas of life from school to work and many are prevented from fulfilling their true potential by severe discrimination and prejudice.”
Let’s not forget the facts, and some of these are not reserved for the developing world. We still have some way to go in the whole world to get things right for girls and women. Take illiteracy, for example – by 2015, females will make up 64% of the world’s (adult) population who are illiterate and who cannot read. This needs to be tackled in schools, with girls’ access to education. But only 30% of girls in the world are enrolled in secondary school.
Part of the reason for this is forced and early marriage, against which Plan has been campaigning. One in seven girls in developing countries is married off before age 15, and 1 in 3 by the age of 18. But it is happening here in the UK too – the Forced and Early Marriage Unit of the Home Office dealt with almost 1500 cases in the UK in 2011.
Violence against girls is a real issue. In the US one in five high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a boyfriend. Worldwide, estimates have as many as 1.2 million children being trafficked every year. These are shocking figures.
I could write more – and at length – about the objectification of women, and the pressures placed on girls which are not placed on boys, to look, act and appear in certain ways, but I would run out of space here. Suffice it to say that globally, we need to look after girls more, and not at all at the expense of looking after boys. This isn’t about being better, it is about being fairer. Girls across the world need our help.
So – let’s remember this today. Let’s help to make the world a fairer, better, more harmonious place. Play your part on this fine October day.