MGA Observes the International Day of the Girl and the Urgent Need to Build Equity for Girls Globally
On the 11th of October 2020, the United Nations invites us to celebrate the ninth annual International Day of the Girl (IDG) and to raise awareness of girls’ situations, struggles and potentials all around the world. This year’s theme centres on building equity for girls, recalling the oppression, challenges and discrimination faced by girls and the vital need for girls to get equal opportunities with their male counterparts. The Day of the Girl was officially declared by the UN General Assembly on the 19th of December 2011, with the adoption of Resolution 66/170. Girls are powerful agents of change, especially when their voices are heard, they are involved in decision-making, they are given equal opportunities, and can demand transformative action. The celebrations of the International Day of the Girl encompass energy, enthusiasm, fearlessness, courage and hope, as girls and young women share their voices, talents, art and experiences of resilience, while advocating for the attainment of their basic human rights.
For me, the International Day of the Girl is one of the most important celebrations worldwide, as it demands that the challenges, stereotypes, violence and disempowerment of girls are addressed. As a child, I grew up with the privilege of not having my abilities, opportunities and behaviours limited due to gender norms, which limit some girls’ lives from birth. Being from a small village in the west of Ireland, I spent six years as the only girl in a class with seven boys and not once did I feel inferior or discouraged to compete because of my gender. I can still remember the confusion, sadness and anger I felt, as a seven year old, trying to understand that not all girls were born with the freedom, opportunities and hope that I was.
Every Lent we were given a Trócaire donation box in school to bring home and collect donations to support the work of Trócaire in the global south. There was a photo of a seven year old girl on the outside of the donation box with the caption “give her an opportunity to be educated so she can know more than poverty”. I was baffled. I couldn’t understand how a girl, my age, needed to be given an opportunity to be able to go to school. I went to school everyday, it was never a question. Why was it not the same for her? This was my first lesson on gender, discrimination, injustice and privilege. From that moment on, the true power of education, and the stereotypes, obstacles and oppression of girls became much clearer in my day to day life.
Traditionally, the International Day of the Girl celebrations have taken place at the United Nations Headquarters in NYC and compiled of a number of events organised by girls from around the world. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s celebrations look a little different. The events have been adapted and digitally transformed into an online global celebration, by sharing experiences, holding conversations and posting girls’ submissions across popular social media platforms. The Working Group on Girls has organised the main events which includes the Girls Speak Out, the Girls’ Rights Townhall, and of course, the 11 Days of Action leading up to the International Day of the Girl. The ‘Girls Speak Out’ will be live streamed on Youtube and will premiere a video compiling submissions from girls all around the world. Girls will be speaking out about the gender imbalance, as they continue to be overlooked and disproportionately impacted by poverty, inequalities and crises.
The IDG submissions by girls from around the world have been informative, empowering and creative. Ufoma from Nigeria highlighted the importance of advocating for equal and quality education for girls. Education increases girls’ levels of health and nourishment, and improves their chances of employment and better livelihoods. She wrote “the fight for girls’ rights needs me because I believe that as a youth, I have what it takes to create social change with education, because education is power”.
The past twenty five years have seen a lot of progress in the realisation of girls’ rights, as a result of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, especially Critical Area L, which focuses specifically on the girl child. A recent report by UNICEF states that the number of girls out of school dropped by 78 million between 1998 and 2018. However, what seemed like tremendous progress is now at risk of being lost due to the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on girls. The pandemic has exposed the systemic inequalities which prevailed in the world before COVID-19, and which failed to protect the dignity and well-being of girls in all of their diversities. The UN has revealed that 11 million girls may not return to school post-pandemic which is alarming for their health and well-being. During the 11 Days of Action Twitter chat, the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd emphasised the importance of keeping girls in school stating that “they will be more likely not to go back when schools reopen and fall into early marriage, child labor, and teen pregnancy. Keeping girls in school keeps girls safe.”
The COVID-19 pandemic makes us more conscious than ever of the systemic root causes of gender inequality, exploitation of girls, gender-based violence and poverty. The pandemic not only risks reversing the progress made on girls’ access to education, but it also risks reversing the many achievements made to reduce child marriage and gender-based violence around the world. Throughout the IDG submissions, girls’ voices are loud and clear calling for their own protection against violence. Maya, from the USA, states that “We shouldn’t have to be afraid in our own communities or at home in our own houses. We should feel just as equal and supported [in] our differences and our genders”. In her poem, Imaan from India, wrote, “So when the world asks ‘why do girls need rights? I say ‘I want safety and freedom to give’. To be yourself truly and unrestrictedly, is a human right, Yet there are those who are denied them day and night.”
We must listen when girls speak out! We must reflect their voices in our efforts to build an equitable, sustainable and peaceful world. We are inspired by girls who are boldly demanding action against the discrimination they experience daily. Mercy Global Action encourages girls everywhere to speak out to improve girls participation, strengthen girls empowerment, increase female leadership, and champion their right to make their own decisions. As Kathy Calvin, former United Nations Foundation President & CEO stated:
“Girls are one of the most powerful forces for change in the world: When their rights are recognised, their needs are met, and their voices are heard, they drive positive change in their families, their communities, and the world”.
Messages to: Siobhan Golden - MGA Intern