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What I want to tell my child on International Day of the Girl

Yesterday I watched my five-year-old daughter trek through a field of long grass almost as tall as her, marching valiantly with her walking stick and determined to forge her own path. It hit me how strong women really are, even when we are small girls. She may be mini, but she is mighty and I will protect her with everything I have to give.

Unfortunately there are some girls in the world today that don’t have the opportunities that my daughter has in this world. Imagine a small girl with no healthcare, education, or parents to protect her. This nightmare exists and isn’t just the stuff of some grim horror movie. Looking at my daughter, I am confounded that things such as child marriage or female mutilation are realities. It is a good first step that International Day of the Girl was launched in 2011 to recognize the importance of advocating on behalf of girls everywhere. It is a day that has made me realize how lucky my daughter is that she was born into a country where she has opportunities. Why would any little girl deserve less than another simply because of her nationality? Her ethnicity? Her gender?

International Day of the Girl was declared on December 19 2011 by the United Nations General Assembly. The UN adopted Resolution 66/170 to make October 11 a day that recognizes girls’ rights and the importance of advocating on their behalf. International Day of the Girl also focuses on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are a series of objectives on behalf of the UN to make the world a better place.

Sustainable Development Goal 5 focuses on achieving gender equality and empowerment for all girls and women. A few of the Goal 5 targets include ending all forms of discrimination for woman and girls, ending violence, eliminating harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage, giving equal access to government roles, and providing universal access to sexual and reproductive health.

The percentage of women between the ages of 20 and 24 who were married before 18 years old dropped from 32 per cent in 1990 to 26 per cent in 2015. Marriage of girls who were younger than 15 also dropped from 12 per cent in 1990 to seven per cent in 2015. Female genital mutilation has dropped slightly, but it still continues to be a relevant problem in certain countries — there is unfortunately limited data. In 30 countries that had data available, one in three girls have undergone the practice as compared to 1 in 2 girls in the 1980s. More information is needed on this issue to truly understand the scope of female genital mutilation though.

Another statistic: globally, women speakers in national parliament accounts for 18 per cent of all speakers as of January 2016, with 49 out of 273 posts globally.

There is clearly a lot of work that needs to be done to create a safe world for girls everywhere. International Day of the Girl is a step towards highlighting the importance of these issues, but world leaders need to take more than one day to recognize the challenges, obstacles, and atrocities these young girls deal with every day. I can only hope that I will one day be able to tell my daughter that child marriage, female genital mutilation, child marriage and unequal representation in parliament are things of the past, and that we can finally live in a world of equality for girls around the world.