Let Girls Be Girls - Why International Day of the Girl is Important
A handful of girls roll out the front doors of their middle school dressed in colorful high-tops, t-shirts and jeans. They hop into the waiting car, switch on “their” radio station and talk about dance class, science lab, and a weekend filled with soccer, swim meets and sleepovers. These 12 and 13-year-old girls sing, laugh and talk non-stop, and the subject of boys never comes up. Sure, they’re interested, but they have other stuff to think about. And men? Not on their radar.
In another town, little girls grab their backpacks and lunch boxes and climb on the school bus. They have years of education ahead of them and all the time in the world to decide what they’ll be when they grow up. For now, their days are filled with teachers, friends and family. After school is all about riding horses, playing Legos, collecting Girl Scout badges and hours spent with their noses deep in the pages of books.
Across town a group of high school girls cram for the first major tests of the school year. They talk about boyfriends and after school jobs; about papers they’re writing and preparations for the upcoming ACT and SAT exams. Yes, some of the girls are sexually active and they talk about that too, but because they have contraceptives and condoms, they’re not terrified that an STD or unplanned pregnancy will dismantle their futures.
These are the lucky girls whose lives are safe, secure and predictable because they’re born into families in countries where girls are allowed to be girls. Their educations are a given. Their talents and hobbies are supported. Their health is strong. They have enough to eat and nobody’s planning on marrying them off to some guy in the next village whether they like him or not.
In other families and other countries, five-year-olds are enduring genital mutilation, 12-year-olds are getting married and fifteen year olds are having their second babies. Many of them will die in childbirth. If they attend school at all, their educations are short-lived. They spend their days lugging water, cooking, cleaning and taking care of smaller siblings. Some take care of husbands and the babies that come way too early. Separated from their parents, they’re living their lives as women while they’re still little girls. That’s what life is like for billions of girls living in poverty in developing countries.
The United Nations has designated October 11th as the First International Day of the Girl, a global campaign to celebrate, educate and empower girls all around the world. Here at Every Mother Counts, we’re celebrating hard because for us, it’s personal. We believe that safe motherhood can only be achieved when we start with safe girls - girls who live life to the fullest, reaching towards adulthood with excitement and optimism. Many of us here at EMC are mothers of daughters we know will grow up to be fabulous women capable of doing anything they set their minds to.
Many of us have seen firsthand what happens to girls (both here in America and abroad) whose futures are cut short by minimal (or absent) educations, malnutrition, poor health and hygiene, brutal living conditions, cultural norms that accept routine violence and oppression of girls and women, early marriages, early motherhood and limited opportunities for jobs and futures outside of poverty. Sadly, girls everywhere are vulnerable because they will be women one day. Women everywhere are at risk for rape, trafficking, and domestic violence…just because they’re women.
Why is this so important? Check out these statistics:
- 10 million girls around the world are forced into marriages before they’re 18 every year - that’s 25,000 every day
- 15 million of these brides have been forced into marriages between the ages of 10 and 14
- Child brides are twice as likely to be beaten by their husbands
- Half of girls in developing countries become mothers as children
- The leading cause of death for girls ages 15 to 19 in developing countries is complications from pregnancy and childbirth
- Every 16 seconds, a girl is genitally mutilated, most as infants, toddlers, or very young girls.
- Between 100 and 140 million girls and women have been subjected to genital mutilation
- Girls and women who’ve undergone genital mutilation are at significantly higher risk for having serious health complications both immediately following the procedure and during childbirth.
And now for the good news:
- Research proves that educating girls breaks the cycle of poverty
- Girls who complete secondary school are six times less likely to become child brides.
- When girls receive 7 years of schooling, they marry 4 years later and have 2.2 fewer children
- Girls who live in communities with access to safe water sources are significantly more like attend school
- When 10% more of its girls go to school, a country's GDP increases an average of 3%
- When women are educated and empowered, democracy is more likely to flourish and the conditions that promote extremism are reduced.
- Educated mothers are 50% more likely to immunize their children.
- When more girls are educated, a country's malnutrition and HIV rates decline.
- When female farmers are educated, crop yields rise.
For the days leading up to International Day of the Girl, we’ll be tackling hard subjects related to both the oppression and empowerment of girls. We’ll highlight individuals and organizations making significant impacts on the lives of girls and women including:
- CARE – A global humanitarian organization focused on improving lives for girls and women
- 10X10 – A social action campaign and film (Girl Rising) focused on educating girls
- CAGEM – Campaign against Female Genital Mutilation
- Tostan - A community development organization focused on eradicating female genital cutting and establishing sustainable positive social transformation in Africa
- The Girl Effect – A movement devoted to empowerment of adolescent girls, created by the Nike Foundation,
- Girls not Brides – a global partnership to end child marriage
- Girl Up – A United Nations campaign that enables American girls to raise awareness and fundraise for adolescent girls in developing countries
- Cecilia Attias Foundation for Women – Fostering positive change for women across the globe
We invite you to celebrate with us:
- Read Gavin Weston’s powerful book, Harmattan, the story of a young girl growing up in Niger.
- Watch Half The Sky, the documentary, premiering on PBS Monday October 1st and Tuesday October 2nd at 9PM.
- Participate in our Let Girls Be Girls Photo Contest
- Hold your own Power Summit by gathering friends and discussing “girl stuff”
- Find or create International Day of the Girl events in your city
- Check back often to learn more about the issues girls face every day and find out how you can help.
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