International Day of the Girl: Recognition by Global Community

New York, N.Y.  Today is the International Day of the Girl Child. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011, October 11th now marks official recognition by the global community of the rights of girls and the many challenges they continue to face around the world.

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Schoolgirls in Puntland, Somalia. Photo courtesy of the author.

This year’s theme focuses on girls’ education and the need to find fresh, innovative ways to make real progress in this area. Despite improvements over the last 20 years in girls’ school attendance and completion rates globally, there are still far too many girls who are deprived of this basic right. The numbers are staggering. Most recent UN figures estimate that almost 35 million primary school-age girls and 37 million secondary-school age girls are not in school. Almost half of these girls live in Sub-Saharan Africa and a quarter live in South Asia.

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Girls are prevented from going to school, or taken out of school early for a myriad of reasons. Cultural norms may prioritize education for boys over girls, or place the burden of household responsibilities on girls, which can affect their school attendance or ability to keep up with classes. In countries where child marriage is customary, girls are pulled out of school to be married off, sometimes even before they have reached puberty.

Poverty forces girls to forego school in order to work to support their families, or prevents them from completing their education because they cannot afford basic school expenses.  The fear of violence both in school and on the way to and from school is yet another major barrier. In some countries where girls face beatings, acid attacks and sexual assault on their way to school, or are at risk of sexual abuse at the hands of teachers and male students, parents are forced to keep their daughters at home.

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Photo courtesy of Girl Up (www.girlup.org).

Acknowledgement of these challenges by the global community through creating the Day of the Girl could be a sign that real change is afoot. It at least signals increasing awareness that investing in educating girls can lead to tangible improvements in health, food security and family well-being, increase economic productivity, and create ways out of poverty. And it recognizes the transformative potential that girls’ education holds not only for girls themselves but also for societies as a whole.

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The push for girls’ education has gained tremendous momentum in recent years not least because of the efforts of a number of global and local organizations who have brought urgency to the issue. Many initiatives are girl-led, tapping into the aspirations, dreams and leadership abilities of girls to become their own agents of change in their communities.

Strong advocates include the UN Girls’ Education Initiative, Save the Children, and Plan International, as well as the Girl Effect, a large global network of organizations dedicated to supporting girls as a force for change, the Girl Up campaign that mobilizes American girls to take action for adolescent girls worldwide, and the Half the Sky Movement, inspired by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book of the same name – Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

They are joined by The Malala Fund, established this year by 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl and education activist who survived a brutal attack by the Taliban, and who has become the most compelling voice for girls’ empowerment everywhere.

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See United Nations video here.

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Leigh Pasqual
Leigh Pasqual (@Leighzyp) is a Singaporean, New Yorker, writer, women's rights advocate, mummy, puppy-lover, awesome guacamole maker, even more awesome luggage-packer.

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