Why We Need an International Day of the Girl

Today is the first ever International Day of the Girl.

There is a strong case to be made that this commemorative day is long overdue. Girls, particularly adolescent girls, hold the keys to uplifting societies from poverty; investing in the health and education of girls has a compounding effect on other development outcomes. Yet in far too many places around the world the health and education of girls is still neglected. And as the tragic case of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan starkly illustrates, there are powerful forces that still seek the oppression and subjugation of girls.

We need to reverse that trend and redouble our global efforts to support the education, freedom and health of adolescent girls around the world. From United Nations Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin:

The truth today is that girls in many parts of the world aren’t seen as part of the equation. They have been overlooked by many on a global level and aren’t valued on a local level as equal members of their families or communities. They have the potential to be innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders, but too many are denied the opportunity to thrive.

The statistics paint a shocking picture of the problem. Globally, more than half of out-of-school children are girls. In many countries, they shoulder a much heavier burden of the household chores than boys, which takes time away from studying. Adolescent girls are also vulnerable to sexual violence and HIV. And every year, an estimated 10 million girls under the age of 18 become child brides. As one report summarized it, “Girls and young women are generally less educated, less healthy, and less free than their male peers.”

While the oppression of girls perpetuates a cycle of poverty, the empowerment of girls has a ripple effect that strengthens families, communities, countries, and ultimately the world. If a girl stays in school, remains healthy, and gains skills, she will likely marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and earn an income that she’ll invest back into her family. This promotes more productive and stable countries — enhancing global prosperity and security and benefiting us all.

Most importantly, what happens to adolescent girls should matter because human rights matter. Girls deserve the same opportunities to pursue their hopes and dreams no matter where they live.

Here is a video via GirlUp, a United Nations Foundation program that is building a global movement in support of the health, welfare and well being of adolescent girls around the world.