In December 2011 the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 October the International Day of the Girl Child, thus recognizing girls’ human rights and the particular challenges that girls face. In reserving a day for advocacy and action by and for girls, the UN has demonstrated its commitment to end gender-based inequality, discrimination, neglect, violenceand the economic disparities that disproportionately affect girls across the globe.
The Canadian and US girl activists who conducted the campaign to create this special day of observance purposefullychose the date 10/11/12 (month/day/year) in order to highlight that the fact that life often changes dramatically for the worse for girls aged 10-12 years. In many societies, negative cultural practices such as early marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting and discrimination mark the passage from child to young woman. It is at this age also that many girls are permanently withdrawn from school.
Denying young women the right to education is a major human rights abuse with far-reaching and lasting consequences. On the other hand positive interventions on behalf of girls have been shown to benefit not only the girls themselves but their communities as well.
For instance there is a direct relationship between the length of time a girl is permitted to stay at school and breaking the poverty cycle. An extra year of primary schools boosts girls’ wage-earning capacity by 10 – 20%; while an extra year of secondary school increases this to 15-25%. An increase of 1% in female secondary school attendance can add 0.3% to a country’s average annual per capita income growth.
More than a third of the young women in the world today are married before they are eighteen; one third of these are under fifteen. Interventions, therefore, which enable young women to remain at school, delay marriage and avoid early pregnancy are critical to their health, wellbeing, financial independence and productivity as members of society.
In the words of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education rights campaigner who was shot by the Taliban, “Education is the only solution. Nothing, no political indifference, no government inaction, no intimidation, no threats, no assassin’s bullets should ever deny the right of every single child to be able to go to school.”
Girls are the key to global social and economic development. When girls have safe places to live, access to secondary education, health care andlegal protection they thrive. And if they thrive, those around them thrive as well.
Who are the girls in your life? As International Day of the Girl approaches, you might like to think of ways of celebrating their existence. At the same time, you could consider ways of drawing attention to the fundamental human right of all girls to education and freedom from discrimination and abuse.
Girls deserve to be treated with dignity as their rights are human rights too.