October 11 of every year has been set aside for the girl child by the United Nations, this day among others aims to promote the rights of girls and address the unique challenges girls across the globe face. It is a day to remind the world of the importance of empowering girls, ensuring their education, and fostering gender equality. By recognizing the potential of girls and investing in their well-being, we pave the way for a brighter and more inclusive future for all.
As the UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted, “Women and girls can lead us to a fairer future…let us amplify girls’ voices, and recommit to working together to build a world where every girl can lead and thrive.”
Unfortunately, despite the victories and successes recorded in some areas in recent years, girls around the world continue to face various forms of discrimination, violence, and inequality. Issues such as child marriage, limited access to quality education, gender-based violence, and unequal opportunities persist in many societies.
In our clime, there seem to be some unwritten rules, templates, and expectations for the female gender. Right from when I can remember being a girl, I was bombarded with subtle, covert, overt training and awareness of my femininity and responsibilities as a female. Girls condone so much and shy away from real-life issues. Being a girl anywhere in the world comes with a lot. The world taught the gender to be afraid of everything, but will not teach them how not to hurt. *The girl child is special and should be protected. Some people in our society should also stop sexualizing women and girls. Also, some have the false notion that the girl is supposed to be “seen and not heard” because it is unfeminine to be seen. This warped perspective is a lot to deal with in a patriarchal society.
While we cannot shy away from the successes recorded regarding the empowerment of the girl child, there are still issues to be addressed. Some of these are related to education, ending gender-based violence, promoting and accessing equal opportunities for both genders without stereotypes or limitations, and more.
According to a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2019, millions of girls still lack access to quality education due to factors such as poverty, cultural norms, and gender bias. We seem to forget that when girls are educated, they become powerful agents of change within their families, communities, and nations. Education equips them with knowledge, skills, and the confidence to pursue their dreams, participate in decision-making processes, and break the cycle of poverty.
Let’s also talk about the exposure to different forms of gender-based violence. While we acknowledge that boys too fall victim to this, the percentage tilts more to the female and this remains a grave concern affecting girls worldwide. It takes various forms, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. We must all make conscious efforts to address this issue and create safe environments where girls can grow, learn, and thrive without fear.
Governments, organizations, and communities must work together to enforce laws, provide support services, and raise awareness to eliminate gender-based violence. It is time to challenge harmful stereotypes, promote equal pay for equal work, and create an inclusive society that values and respects girls and women. Every girl deserves to be safe, educated, and empowered.
Let us celebrate this day by recognizing the achievements of girls and redoubling our efforts to address the challenges they face. Together, we can build a future where every girl can dream big, fulfil her aspirations, and make a positive impact on the world.
Happy International Day of the Girl Child!
An alumnus of the Young Africa Leaders Initiative (YALI) an initiative of former US President Barack Obama to build young African leaders, Ayotomiwa Ayodele is a gender and policy advocate, human development worker and communications specialist.