It’s probably difficult for you to imagine being married off before your 18th birthday or going your entire life without ever setting foot in a classroom or accessing the internet – but I hope it’s not impossible for you to do so.
Why? Because this is the reality millions of girls are living worldwide, even in 2021.
And they’re counting on you to change that.
In 2011, United Nations General Assembly declared October 11th International Day of the Girl. On this day all over the world, activists, organizations, and ordinary citizens will shine a spotlight on the vulnerabilities and human rights of girls everywhere. From access to education and healthcare to stamping out gender-based violence, child marriage, and female genital mutilation, International Day of the Girl recognizes and seeks to bring awareness to disadvantages girls face in childhood that affect the rest of their adult lives.
A safe, healthy life that includes a solid education should be a basic human right for every girl as she grows through her childhood and adolescence into adulthood. If girls are sufficiently supported, educated, and cared for during their teens, they will grow into strong women who will make extraordinary contributions to their families and communities.
“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave – to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.” – Malala Yousafzai
Despite how they are treated in many parts of the world, girls are not just bodies; they are not property.
When girls’ rights are stripped away, we all lose. We are robbed of political leaders, incredible medical and legal minds, and our momentum toward gender equality. Our health suffers. Our economy suffers. Our entire world suffers.
This is a global problem.
Child brides are often forced to drop out of school to bear children. Each year, more than 12 million girls under the age of 18 are forced into marriage. Those young mothers and infants have much higher mortality rates than women who are allowed when (and who) to marry in adulthood. Their rates of illness are higher. Their rates of poverty are higher.
But it’s not only those at risk for forced marriage that are falling behind. An even higher number of girls are not getting the education they have a fundamental human right to receive. In fact 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 are currently not enrolled in school. Of those, 15 million will not set foot in a classroom their entire lives.
There are many factors, including poverty, distance/cost, and cultural norms, that contribute to the gender gap in education. And while these can also affect boys, they disproportionately keep girls out of school.
The fact of the matter is that any child in school is far more likely to be protected from exploitation than those who are not. And children who are in school have higher self-confidence and more opportunities to make better decisions regarding their futures.
Women who can choose when to become mothers are healthier and more financially stable. Their children are automatically in a better position to have access to education, healthcare, and a higher standard of living.
When girls are afforded their basic human rights, when they are given opportunities to reach their full potential, all of society benefits.
We challenge you to use your privilege to help make a difference for the millions of girls who do not have a voice.
- 1. Share their stories. Their truth is out there! Read the articles. Watch the videos. Then make sure your friends do, too. Awareness is a key component to creating new legislation, raising funds, and breaking the dangerous cycles in which millions of girls are trapped.
- 2. Mentor and/or tutor locally. There are a number of organizations that seek to match caring adults in mentoring and tutoring programs! In fact, your neighborhood school likely has its own tutoring program. Help a student develop the confidence and skills she will need for success in adulthood by investing just a few hours per month in her future! Organize a team from your office, church, or book club and make a difference together.
As Sally Ride said, “You cannot be what you cannot see.” Your visibility will have an impact far beyond what you can measure.
- 3. Donate. Give your time, give your voice, give your money. Support the organizations that are working to give girls the same opportunities the boys their age are receiving.
- 4. Vote! In order to vote for change, you have to know the issues. You have to know how laws, school bonds, and legislators work in order to effect positive change! Spend time making sure your representatives know how they can best support girls’ health, education, and safety. If the laws are unfair? Change them. If the funding isn’t available? Raise it. Women fought for your right to be able to do these things – use it!
Women around the world without a voice are counting on their more privileged sisters to make the world a more equitable, safer place for them. Our daughters and their daughters will have their work cut out for them – let’s not make them do it alone.
Girls’ rights are human rights; there is no time to waste.