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The Shocking Reasons We Need An International Day of the Girl Child

International Day of The Girl Child

International Day of The Girl Child vs International Pirate Day

11 October is International Day of the Girl Child.

It’s only in its sixth year. Why did the UN think it was necessary to add to a stable of already-full calendar events?

The statistics

Because according to the UN website:

Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence. In humanitarian emergencies, gender-based violence often increases, subjecting girls to sexual and physical violence, child marriage, exploitation and trafficking. Adolescent girls in conflict zones are 90 per cent more likely to be out of school when compared to girls in conflict-free countries, compromising their future prospects for work and financial independence as adults.

Yep. Every ten minutes. And that’s just adolescent girls, not women.

Gender inequality

I’m the first one to say that action trumps symbolic gestures. That rather than having often-expensive talkfest summits or meetings from a representative selection of the population to determine consensus on the issues, that you should just deal with them.

I’m not saying there’s not a place for people’s voices to be heard. I’m saying that especially in the case of heaving bureaucracies like, for example, the UN, that there are people there who can do the job without more consultation. That there are plenty of people out there perhaps with the best of intentions (and perhaps not) doing a lot of pontificating and not a lot of actually building the bridges to the solutions. That talkfests don’t often achieve much. Bear with me. I’ll eventually get to the point.

The potency and meaning of recognising official ‘days of…’ has been somewhat diluted through the introduction of, say ‘National Lima Bean Respect Day’ (to be fair that one’s the US only), ‘International Talk Like A Pirate Day’, or even UN-sanctioned ‘International Day of Happiness’.

From some corners, there’s a perception that the ‘whole gender equality thing’ is done and dusted. Recent events might cast a shadow on that line of thought: specifically, the accusations being levelled at Harvey Weinstein, and high-profile domestic violence cases in Australia, alongside the US President’s ongoing maltreatment of, and attitudes towards, women. More serious still was his move to expand the Global Gag Rule and cutting off funding for the United Nations Population Fund (which provides maternal and child health services as well as education on contraception to women, mainly in developing countries).

There are 1.1 billion girls in the world…They can drive change and help build a better future for all. Yet, most girls [not boys] face disadvantage and discrimination on a daily basis. UN Women

International Day of The Girl Child theme

International Day of The Girl Child

I’ve heard too that there should be an International Day of the Boy Child too; or an International Mens’ Day, equivalent of its counterpart for women.

So again, why do we need the International Day of the Girl Child?

Because in Nepal, 37 per cent of girls are married before they are adults.

Because ironically, girls in India are sold for marriage ‘like cows and goats’. Ironic because the side effect of baby girls being unfashionable and a subsequent imbalance in gender ratios means the going market rate for a girl bride is sky high.

More than 200 million girls in 30 countries have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation.

More than 34 million are outside the secondary education system.

Because women suspected of being witches are still hunted and burned in Papua New Guinea and two-thirds are subjected to domestic violence there. Little girls (and boys) in PNG are growing up watching this happen.

Turn your thoughts also to the horrific accounts of sexual violence emerging from Myanmar against both women and girls.

Before you pop this in the ‘developing world problem’ box, consider this: nearly 100 per cent of Australian girls think they receive unequal treatment compared with boys. More than nine in 10 said it would be easier to get by in life without so much focus on their appearance. They want the government to ban sexist advertising and when asked what one thing they would change in the world, they answered (without guidance) equality, including equal pay. Yeah, really. Plan International released this survey to coincide with this year’s Day of the Girl and it makes for shocking reading. Sub-par bathroom facilities and lack of appropriate sanitary items mean it’s not just girls in third world countries missing school when they have their period: it happens in remote Australian communities too.

I highlight all this not to encourage despair: let’s face it, there are enough issues (Trump, North Korea, oceans full of plastic), that will do that job.

But this stuff is too important to ignore.

In September the EU and UN together launched an initiative to combat violence against women and girls on a worldwide scale, with 500 million Euro as an initial investment. In line with Sustainable Development Goals set in 2015, the Spotlight Initiative will invite contributions from non-EU donors and members and will administer funds through UN and EU partners.

It will: ‘respond to all forms of VAWG (violence against women and girls), with a particular focus on domestic and family violence, sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices, femicide, trafficking in human beings and sexual and economic (labour) exploitation.’

That’s a huge mandate, and it’s my belief that it’s person by person, whether through a program or through connection on a personal or family level, that attitudes change.

So what can we do?

Support the girls in your life. Encourage them to think outside the box in terms of their education, to pursue things they are passionate about, to imagine a future where they can pursue a life and a career that will challenge and ultimately fulfil them. Support and encourage the boys too and encourage respectful relationships.

Donate to a cause that supports girls and women.

Volunteer time to an organisation in your local area that helps girls.

Be an example. Become the kind of woman you wish you’d had around when you were a girl. Talk to them about other inspirational women, like Jyoti UpadhyayMarisa Drew, Sarah Agbantou and Allison Baum.

And above all, keep this conversation on the agenda. You can do that by sharing it on Facebook using the share function below, under he comments.

International Day of The Girl Child

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