Today, October 11, marks the FIRST-ever International Day of the Girl. Recognized by the United Nations, governments, communities, and girls around the world, the Day of the Girl is about highlighting, celebrating, discussing, and advancing young women’s and girls’ lives and opportunities across the globe.
While I would argue that every day should be about honoring young women and girls who are standing up to injustice and oppression, having the entire world mobilize around one day is extremely powerful. It unites communities in raising awareness of issues uniquely facing young women and girls. It engages families in discussions about the value of their daughters. It forces governments to pay attention and review their policies. And it prompts media outlets to report on human rights abuses committed against brave young girls.
–Girls like Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan. This inspirational 14-year-old dared to stand up to the Taliban, spending the last three years writing the Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl to chronicle her fight for the right of girls to go to school. She refused to remain silent despite repeated threats and is now fighting for her life as a result of an assassination attempt by the Taliban. She was widely hailed in Pakistan for her outspokenness earning her Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize last year, and this week, she has earned the respect and admiration of millions of people around the world who have just recently learned of her bravery.
–Girls like Marietou from Senegal. At the age of 15, Marietou began speaking out against domestic violence in her community. She started with her local district chief and when he ignored her, she interrupted Friday prayers in her mosque to raise attention to the epidemic. Because of her courageous act to out her stepfather as an abuser, her imam decided to center his teachings during the next two Friday prayers on Islam’s opposition to domestic violence, her community held a forum, a law was passed–the Marietou Law–outlawing domestic violence, and a human rights champion emerged.
–And girls like Habibata, Hawa, Mariem, Fatimetou, and Khadjetou. These are just a few of the amazing young women I had the privilege of working with as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mauritania, West Africa. I helped run an after-school girls’ mentoring center at my town’s high school. Over two years, we reached over 100 girls ages 12-24 with important lessons on sexual and reproductive health, human rights, education, violence against women, and delaying marriage and childbirth. It was by far the most important work I would do in a country where it was not uncommon for girls as young as 12 to be married off to much older men, putting them at risk of early pregnancy, obstructed labor, HIV/AIDS and other STIs, dropping out of school, and continuing the perpetual cycle of poverty.
In fact, the UN has chosen the issue of child marriage as the theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl. Why?
–Because every three seconds, a girl under the age of 18 becomes a child bride.
–Because one in seven girls will be forced to marry by the age of 15.
–Because it prevents more than 10 million girls a year from being able to reach their full potential and makes it harder for families, communities, and countries to escape poverty.
–Because if child marriage continues at its current rate, 100 million more girls will be married in the next decade.
–And because child marriage is, simply put, a human rights violation.
Still not convinced? Watch this National Geographic video. Then watch it again, this time with your friends and family. Have a discussion about it. Then take action. Tweet about it using the hashtags #dayofthegirl and #endchildmarriage. Use your Facebook account to raise awareness. Donate to a girl- or woman-led organization. And then sign our petition asking Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to use her power to increase political and financial investments from the US government so we can reach vulnerable girls to end child marriage and support married adolescents. Yesterday, she announced several new private sector commitments to address child marriage and girls’ education. But, we can, and must do more!
And let’s all celebrate the fierce young women and girls in our lives today. And every day! Happy International Day of the Girl!