Let’s celebrate this day but be clear about what we are celebrating and the steps we need to take to enhance the future of girl’s across the globe. We are making strides on fronts of education, child marriage, and female genital mutilation because of advocates/survivors like Malala Yousafzai, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the organizations they support and represent. Girls Not Brides, Plan Canada, AHA Foundation and others have worked far and wide to change the lives of girls and their communities by advocating for better policies, implementing training programs, providing better access to schools and giving voice to the girls who are so often voiceless.
As we take a moment to feel good about that, let’s review the numbers.
- 70% of the one billion people living in extreme poverty are women and girls.*
- Girls are 3x more likely to be malnourished than boys.*
- Globally, 65 million girls do not attend primary or secondary school.*
- According to the World Health Organization, more than 3 million girls have been estimated to be at risk for FGM annually in Africa alone.
- According to UNICEF, if the current levels of child marriages hold, 14.2 million girls annually or 39,000 daily will marry too young.
*Source: Because I’m a Girl
I’m used to reading these statistics but even I feel overwhelmed when I read them. How do we begin to tackle issues that affect millions of girls? Can we even make an impact? Luckily for us, we don’t need to create solutions and there are people alongside organizations that are already making an impact. They’ve got the answers but they need our help. Support does not translate into money or at least it doesn’t have to. There are numerous ways to make a difference including using your voice to raise awareness which can be done in person or on social media. You can volunteer, donate, raise money by doing walks, throw fundraising parties, have a good old bake sale or even rock some charity clothing! Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?
But what will motivate us to act? Many of us have heard, read or seen these numbers but if you’re lucky enough to live in Canada like I do, it’s really easy to ignore them. We should stop though, because our numbers aren’t all that great! According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the odds of a girl being sexually assaulted over the course of her life is 1 in 2. Yikes. What also compels me to make a better world for our girl’s is the state of our women.
A few more local stats courtesy of the Canadian Women’s Foundation:
- On average, every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner.
- On any given day, more than 3,000 women (along with their 2,500 children) are living in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence
- 66% of all female victims of sexual assault are under the age of twenty-four, and 11% are under the age of eleven.
- Women aged 15 to 24 are killed at nearly three times the rate for all female victims of domestic homicide.
Is this the type of world we want to leave behind for our girls? Though our reality looks better than places like the DRC or India, there is no reason we cannot improve these numbers. We need to start having open conversations about the sexualization of young girls, healthy physical, sexual, emotional relationships, we need to educate our children on consent, racism, rape culture and we need to do all of this with adults too. We may be the biggest culprits of perpetuating violence because it has become so normal to us. We have been desensitized. But we need to retrain our minds, unlearn the behaviours that reinforce gender stereotypes, stop accepting violence and brushing it off as cultural practice.
The eradication of violence needs to be a goal not a dream. As we look forward, let’s strive for a world that values but also respects boys and girls, men and women, equally. Together, let’s vow to do everything we can to make this world just. I want our girls of today and of the future to take pride in what we have accomplished and to celebrate International Day of the Girl with their heads held high. Are you up for the challenge?