As an educator, nothing pleases me more than seeing schools full of girls, eager to learn and taking on challenges. This is because I know in many parts of the world girls are denied access to education because it is not held as a basic human right. Two years ago, The United Nations General Assembly declared October 11th as the International Day of the Girl. Along with many supporters and activists worldwide, Canada played an important role in advocating for the establishment of this day. Currently, many around the world are recognizing that we must urgently work to support education for all girls.
Why do we need an International Day of the Girl?
According to Plan Canada’s website, 66 million girls in developing countries are denied an education, despite the fact that a 10% increase in girls attending school would raise the country’s GDP an average of 3%. The reason behind why girls are denied an education is complex and context driven, but Plan Canada’s 2012 report, Learning for Life, has identified three main factors for girls who are not able to go to school and/or stay there: they are often from poor families, tend to live in a rural areas and from ethnic groups that are discriminated or excluded in their society. These identified factors of poverty, accessibility to education and discrimination are universal issues that all countries and local communities around the world are working to overcome.
So What About the Boys?
This can be the common reframe echoed any time girls or women’s issues are brought to the forefront. I cannot stress how truly important working for the rights of girls is really about human rights for all. This is because the views on gender that prevent girls from an education are also the very same viewpoints that negatively affect the lives of boys. The following excerpt from Plan Canada’s 2011 report, So, What About Boys?, provides clarity on why boys and men should care about gender equality:
“1. Girls’ and women’s rights are human rights. If men and boys believe in justice and fairness, they will be able to see that their mothers, sisters and girlfriends are often not treated the same way as they are, do not enjoy the same level of respect in the community, and do not have the same opportunities to make choices about their lives.
2. Greater gender equality will help boys to succeed in school, to be comfortable with their own identity, to be confident in expressing emotions and to be equipped with the skills to build positive relationships of mutual trust and respect.
3. Gender equality has often meant more freedom for girls and women to define themselves in new ways, but little corresponding change for boys and men. A new perspective on gender is about a more productive way of viewing power relationships to the benefit of both sexes ” (Plan Canada 3).
If we truly believe we live in an interconnected society, one based on the power of the human spirit to create change, then we cannot afford to ignore these issues.
The Voices of Girls and Women
Last week I had the opportunity to see a powerful documentary, Girl Rising, that speaks to the importance of educating girls and the challenges faced by girls around the world. The film features the stories of girls and young women told through a writer from that girl’s country. The film touched me deeply, enraged me and provided me with great hope all at the same time. It is a powerful and must- see film for all.
Malala Yousafzai demonstrates the courage, resilience and hope that is characteristic of many girls and advocates that are fighting for change. Her inspirational speech to the United Nations from July of this year can be found here (via The New York Times)and is a reminder of why this fight for girls’ education is so important.
Kakenya Ntaiya, founder of a primary school for girls in the Maasai region of Kenya , articulates in her blog post at National Geographic the power of education for girls.
From the start, every girl should have the opportunities and chance at life that she so rightly deserves. She should no longer have to fight for the basic rights that so many girls and women have fought for before us and continue to do today. In the future, she will not need an International Day of the Girl because all children will have basic human rights, the ability to make their own decisions, create their own life paths, as well as to equally sit at the tables of change when making decisions about their communities. The International Day of the Girl is one day and it will take recognition and work of what is important every day for these dreams to be realized.
Plan Canada. “Because I am a Girl The State of the World’s Girls 2012: Learning for Life, Executive Summary.” 2012. Web. 11 October 2013. <http://plancanada.ca/Downloads/BIAAG/GirlReport/2012/BIAAG2012ExecutiveSummary.pdf>.
Plan Canada. “Because I am a Girl The State of the World’s Girls 2011: So, What About Boys?, Executive Summary.” 2011. Web. 11 October 2013. <http://plancanada.ca/document.doc?id=244>.