Tomorrow, it’s the 3rd International Day of the Girl. It’s a day I look on with a great sense of pride. 4 years ago I was part of a team from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. We were at the UN Commission on the Status of Women to represent the voices of girls and young women across the world, pleading that their voices and their needs be prioritised in the international agenda. So many memories stand out from the insane week we spent in frozen New York (poor Susie and Rachel came from Australasian summers!), but one of them is joining with some lovely girls from Plan Canada to lobby for an International Day of the Girl Child. Though it was one of the scariest moments of my life, my pride at having the chance to represent young women worldwide was only increased when we later found out we’d been successful!
Why the Girl? Why not the boy? Was this just a “feminist ploy” as I’ve heard it described since?
Girlguiding UK recently undertook a huge survey of girls and young women. You can read more about it at http://new.girlguiding.org.uk/report, but it makes for shocking and unsettling reading.
Over 87% of the girls surveyed felt that girls were judged more on appearance than ability. And you only have to pick up a paper like the Sun – one of Britain’s most selling papers – to see why. Men and boys doing things, changing things, and what are the girls doing? Standing around in their pants looking pretty.
70% of the girls surveyed reported experiencing suexual harrassment.
70%. In a place that is supposed to be safe, nurturing. A place where girls should feel free to learn, to engage, to develop.
20% of girls between 7 and 11 reported having been on a diet. 20%. Of children. I have a Brownie who refuses to wear her favourite article of uniform, because “it makes me look fat”. This girl is 8. I’ve struggled with my weight for years. It’s miserable, and because we’re all too good at confusing appearance with identity, low feelings about appearance have got an obnoxious way of manifesting as depression and self loathing – “I can’t lose weight – therefore I can’t do anything – therefore I’m worthless”. It terrifies me to think that young children are already starting this vicious cycle.
These may seem like Western problems, but the report also highlighted the desire of the girls surveyed to make girls rights a priority in International Development. With 65 million girls worldwide not in school, and 125 million girls and women having undergone female genital mutilation, it’s exciting to see girls and young women in this country standing up and making the voices heard on behalf of their voiceless sisters.
That’s why the International Day of the Girl is important. Because worldwide, girls and young women are disproportionately discriminated against, and it’s just not fair. This is a day to celebrate all that we have to offer – and to pledge ourselves again to keep fighting.
Tomorrow, I’ll be thinking of 5 special friends who stood with me on that day and announced that enough was enough. Brilliant Susie, founder of a fantastic NGO bringing sanitary products to girls in Kenya. Lovely Rachel, triumphing over adversity to represent girls and young women in New Zealand. Gorgeous Jose, who’s since become International Commissioner of Girl Scouting Equador – an unbelievable achievement given her age. I-Ling, busy changing Asia, who seems to be able to do at least 150 things all at the same time – and all with brilliant efficiency and humour. Nefeli, on a one woman to change the entire world – preferably with a beer or cocktail in hand.
Tomorrow, I’ll remember those 5 friends who stood with me, declaring that enough was enough. We need to change. And I’ll remember all those girls and young women across the world who don’t have the same voice. Because tomorrow, those are the girls we need to stand up for.
If we don’t, they will never be heard. And as a society, we can’t afford to lose their voices. They’re too precious.