International Day of the Girl: What it is and why it matters

Oct 06, 2020
“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 

International Day of the Girl is on October 11. Former Canadian Member of Parliament Rona Ambrose led the global movement to establish the day. The United Nations formally adopted the resolution to declare the International Day of the Girl Child on December 19, 2011. Since then, it’s been a day to honour girls’ rights and promote their empowerment. 

As the saying goes, “Girl’s rights are human rights”. Which is to say that girls have a right to education. They have a right to live free from gender-based violence. They have a right to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and healthcare. They have a right to economic opportunity, self-determination and to have their voices heard and respected. 

When girls have access to all these things, they have the potential to change their own lives, the lives of their families and communities, and beyond. When we invest in girls today, we invest in future entrepreneurs, mentors, political leaders, mothers, activists and innovators.   

It’s been 25 years since the UN adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a global agenda for advancing the rights and empowerment of women and girls everywhere.

A young Bolivian girl sits at a desk with a book. She wears a navy blue sweater and smiles at the camera
Photo: Jose Luis Roca

And progress has been made:

Why does International Day of the Girl matter?

Despite global achievements towards gender equality, girls continue to face barriers to full, equal participation both at home and in the world. And the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to turn back much of the progress that’s been made.  

Child Marriage

Each year, 12 million girls under the age of 18 are married and an additional four million girls are at risk of child marriage in the next two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Girls aged 15-19 years give birth to 12.8 million babies each year, contributing to maternal and child mortality and leading to long-term health problems like obstetric fistula

Studies show that girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties. And babies born of child mothers are 60 per cent more likely to die in their first year of life than babies born to a mother older than 19.

Health

The World Health Organization estimates that 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). Three million girls are at risk of undergoing the procedure every year. Most girls are cut before the age of 15. The practice often goes hand in hand with child marriage and contributes to a range of harmful health outcomes

A young girl from Uganda wears a mask and holds her hands forward as if to say "Keep back."
Photo: Emmanuel Amone Okello

According to the UNFPA, shame, stigma and misinformation surrounding menstruation undermine the well-being of girls, making them vulnerable to gender discrimination, child marriage, exclusion from school and community, violence, poverty and untreated health problems.

Research shows that 52% of adolescent girls and young women from rural areas and 47% from urban areas in 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa need approval from their husbands or other family members to make decisions about their own healthcare. 

Education

We know that educating girls and women improves health outcomes. However, despite progress made, girls are still less likely than boys to attend school.

According to UNESCO:

How girls around the world are taking a stand

Though there are many challenges ahead of us, International Day of the Girl reminds us to celebrate the successes and to listen for the voices of girls who are reimagining a better world – one where they are recognized, counted and invested in. Girls like Nahomy and Dola.

Nahomy 
 
A young Honduran girl stands with hands on hips, smile on face. She wears a pink plaid shirt and a blue and white sash.Photo: Jon Warren

Thirteen-year-old Nahomy is the youth mayor of Yamaranguila, Honduras. Already a child rights advocate and community organizer, she campaigned and was elected by students all over the municipality, winning twice as many votes as the other candidates. She encourages her peers to build up their community through service. Nahomy faces difficult subjects head on, campaigning against child marriage and teen pregnancy. And when children drop out of school, Nahomy goes with the municipal child protection officer to talk to their parents and help them find solutions.

“I want to be a doctor and start the first clinic in my community,” says Nahomy. “To me, being educated means that I can take care of my family and my community, especially my grandparents and father who have sacrificed so much to give me opportunities.”

Dola
 
A young Bangladeshi girl poses for the camera near a colourful wall. She is smiling and giving the peace signPhoto: Kate Shaw

Fifteen-year-old Dola uses her voice to advocate for other girls in her home country of Bangladesh. A leader with the Child Forum in Bangladesh, she and her youth colleagues have helped stop over 600 child marriages in the past two years. Last year she was invited to the United Nations in Geneva to speak on behalf of girls in Bangladesh and to share about the Forum’s success in preventing child marriage.

The youngest of four daughters, Dola has seen how girls are perceived to be a burden on their families. Her own mother was married at the age of 13, to a man eight years her senior. Dola is determined to change that perspective and to show that girls can achieve their dreams and soar further than they ever imagined.

How you can help girls succeed around the world

 
Two Indian girls stand next to bicycles. There is a group of girls standing behind them and they are near a school.Photo: Jim Kasom

Sponsor a girl
When you sponsor a girl, you increase her opportunity to go to school, to have nutritious food, to have water that is safe and to have her rights respected and protected. As a result, more girls remain in school and out of child marriage or forced labour. And, because of our community-focused solutions, for every child you help, four more children benefit too.

Send a girl to school
When girls are educated, their lives, the lives of their children, families, communities and countries improve. Invest in girls’ education. Provide essentials like uniforms, school fees, school supplies and more, and help girls rise above poverty. 

Give a girl’s hygiene kit
Menstruation can be a barrier between a girl and her education. When girls have access to feminine hygiene supplies and health training, they can stay in school, stay healthy, and break down the stigma and misinformation that can keep girls excluded from community.

Give to the women and girls in crisis fund
Girls who have been denied schooling, were abused or forced into early marriage or sexual exploitation face additional barriers to a free and full life. By providing education, job training, counselling and healthcare you can help them overcome these challenges. 

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