I was lucky to be born into a time and a culture where being born a girl did not equate to being born into serving a life sentence. As a young girl, I was enrolled in the best schools, taught math and science and not only told I could be but pushed to be a professional with an independent career. My adolescence and young adulthood have not been spent conforming to any pre-established standards, but rather learning how to responsibly manage the incredible amount of freedom I have. For better or worse, I have been free to drive where I want, dress the way I want, say the things I want, study what I want and be the person I want to be. (How well I’ve done any of the aforementioned is, of course, highly debatable.)
As many in our culture do, I took it for granted for a very long time that this freedom was a universal phenomenon. Stories from the other side of the world of gender oppression seemed too far removed for me to fully grasp, and every case of stoning or domestic abuse or child marriage I heard of, I imagined as horrific outliers. Yet with the increasing levels of globalization and technology has come the terrifying knowledge that those everyday horror stories are, in many cases, the rule rather than the exception. Girls of young ages are regularly married to much older men (who do not wait to initiate them to the practices of marriage), genital mutilation is still thriving in some cultures, domestic abuse rates remain alarmingly high and girls are still far behind in education.
Even in our own backyards, though not as overt, young girls are not immune to deep-seated and deeply damaging gender-based prejudices. Girls as young as sixteen are being sexually assaulted and then often blamed for provoking the attacks. Women are still being blatantly exploited for their sexuality. A summer hit, played everywhere and sung casually and often, can be about non-consensual sex and it will still shoot to the top of the charts. The constant debasement of women is still a powerful undercurrent in our societies. In many different ways in many different places, young girls are born to a unique and difficult battle for dignity and basic rights.
With this in mind, the UN declared October 11 International Day of the Girl Child. As the U.N. states:
Girls face discrimination and violence every day across the world. The International Day of the Girl Child focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.
It would be easy to dismiss International Day of the Girl Child as ceremonial, but in reality the United Nations has taken an important step towards addressing an insidious and integral failing in the way we socialize our young men and women. The International Day of the Girl Child has already started important conversations, including how we can better raise our young men, how we have to change what we expect of ourselves and how we judge other women in order to allow our girls to grow up free of the violence, both physiological and psychological, that has plagued our gender for generations. Last year, the inaugural Day was celebrated under the theme of Ending Child Marriage. This year, the theme is “Innovating for Girls’ Education”, and events organized around the world are bringing attention to the issue of girls’ education and the challenges that girls still face in terms of access to, and quality of, education both at the primary and secondary levels.
Each year on 11 October, a specifically chosen theme will shine a light on a particular topic pertinent to the well-being and rights of girls around the world, but the International Day of the Girl Child should not be a one-off thing that only gets noticed once a year – it should be a starting point for a positive change in the lives of girls around the world that happens every single day. Girls’ Globe is working to be a part of that change, and we invite you to join us in making every single day the Day of the Girl Child, everywhere in the world!
Featured image by Flickr user Afghanistan Matters, listed under Creative Commons.
Image in post by Omar Chatriwala, listed under Creative Commons.