Two years ago, the United Nations declared October 11th as the International Day of the Girl Child to raise awareness about all issues concerning gender inequality around the world. Today we are celebrating its two year anniversary. This year’s theme focuses on empowering adolescent girls: ending the cycle of violence. The International Day of the Girl Child is a day when activists come together to discuss, plan, take action, in order to advance rights and opportunities for girls everywhere. Yet, October 11th does not have to be “just” a UN (holi)day; it can also be one day in a movement of many days to empower girls and educate boys on issues such as equality, dignity and gender parity.
As comments on Thursday by Microsoft new CEO Satya Nadella regarding women and wage-raises hit the news, it again highlighted the need for such movement for all of us. Nadella’s statements at Harvey Mudd College that it is good karma when women do not ask for a raise, when they remain silent and trust the “system”, show the need for a global revolution to empower girls while educating boys. It also shows the need to create a society where all humans, regardless of sex or gender, can prosper together.
On Friday UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon highlighted in his message that for girls, “the threat of violence at the hands of family members, partners, teachers and peers grossly violates their rights, diminishes their power and suppresses their potential.” Mr. Ban stated how adolescent girls, in particular, faced “multiple deprivations” such as unequal access to education, sexual and reproductive health services, and social and economic resources. “Girls are subjected to discriminatory social norms and harmful practices – such as female genital mutilation – that perpetuate a cycle of violence. A culture of impunity allows violence against adolescent girls to continue unabated,” he added.
Data provided by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows an estimated 70 million girls ages 15 to 19 report being victims of some form of physical violence, while around 120 million girls under the age of 20 have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts. Worse, 70% of girls aged 15 to 19 who had been victims of physical or sexual violence never sought help as many said they did not think it was abuse or did not see a problem.
The fact that many girls cannot even identify their oppression is part of the problem. Offering girls (and boys) tools for critical thinking is essential. Young people can learn to think critically about systems such as patriarchy, heteronormativity and misogyny (to name but a few).
Yet, today’s day can also be about celebration of the amazing person that each girl is and about recognizing how wonderful and wealthy are those communities in which the voices and energies of girls and women flourish; communities where girls develop free of social, economic and physical oppression and violence. Without these voices and energies, the entire human community suffers.
As we reflect on both the world we live in and the world we want to create, we hope you can think of ways to contribute to end discrimination against women and girls. We invite you to have invigorated dialogues and diverse viewpoints, with your friends, family and community.