Since 2012, the International Day of the Girl Child has been celebrated on 11 October to promote girls’ empowerment and highlight the challenges girls face globally.
It’s just one ‘International Day of’ amongst dozens that are dotted throughout the year, including World Tuna Day, International Asteroid Day and World Soil Day, but the Day of the Girl has always been one of my favourites. Maybe because I’ve experienced girlhood, and grown up with sisters and female cousins and friends. Maybe it’s because of the many girls full of life and potential I’ve met working for World Vision. For the most part, I think it is because girls inspire me. They’re creative, kind, smart and powerful, and I passionately believe that by giving them more opportunities to shine the world will be a better place.
Breaking down barriers
When it comes to improving the lives of girls, a rising tide does not necessarily lift all boats. Girls and women often face additional social and cultural barriers that prevent them from taking advantage of new opportunities or experiencing the benefits of improvement in their local communities.
That’s why World Vision works to consider and address the needs of girls and other vulnerable groups in our community development programs around the world. In 2016-17, 83 percent of World Vision’s ANCP projects included a focus on gender rights or disability inclusion, aligned with the ANCP program logic that development is enhanced by women taking an active role.
Education offers opportunity
It’s also a well-recognised fact that education is perhaps the best way to invest in and empower girls for a brighter future. Girls who are well educated are less likely to marry young, will have fewer children, and are more likely to have healthy and educated children in the future. They have better chances of finding jobs or building their own sources of income, which in turn strengthens local economies.
Here’s a few examples of how World Vision is working to help girls stay in school and reach their full potential.
#1 – Menstrual Hygiene Management.
Menstruation is a fact of life for girls around the world. Limited knowledge around sexual and reproductive health, a lack of menstrual hygiene products access and an absence of sanitary toilet facilities in schools can have a serious impact on girl’s education. A UNESCO report estimates that one in ten girls miss out on school during their period. Many drop out of school altogether. Earlier this year, 500 Days for Girls Menstrual Hygiene Kits were distributed to students in Uganda thanks to a pilot partnership between World Vision and Days for Girls.
#2- Considering girls WASH needs.
Building new toilets in a community may go a long way to changing local hygiene standards and improving health. But if the needs of girls aren’t considered in planning, those new toilets could be a waste (pardon the pun). Things like the chosen location, building style, lighting and security could lead to those toilets being inconvenient, uncomfortable or plainly dangerous for women and girls. Whether in community spaces, schools or at home, World Vision is working to improve access to sanitation in ways that work for women and girls.
#3 – Fighting early marriage.
One third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18. Early marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights, and it is one of the biggest threats to girl’s futures. Education and early marriage are closely connected – when a girl gets married young she’s much less likely to finish school, but when a girl is educated she’s much less likely to get married young. World Vision works to fight early marriage through a combination of education, advocacy and partnering with local authorities to strengthen laws for child protection. When girls know their rights, they’re much better equipped to protect themselves and their friends from early marriage.
#4 – Giving girls the chance to speak out and stand up.
Too often, cultural and social expectations encourage girls to be passive and silent. World Vision works to empower girls, to build their confidence and help them speak up for their rights. In New Delhi, 250 girls have participated in self-defence classes that not only provide practical skills but also help them develop stronger relationships with other young women. In Zimbabwe, girls like Takudzwa and Linda have been selected as Junior Legislators, through a program that pairs student representatives with members of government. They advocated on behalf of children with disabilities and raised the issue of child marriage, presenting information that was passed on to the Senate and organising a fundraising dinner to assist vulnerable children.
#5 – Protecting and providing opportunity for girls during emergencies.
This year’s theme for International Day of the Girl Child is ‘EmPOWER Girls: Before, during and after crises’. Girls living in places affected by conflict and crisis are some of the most vulnerable in the world – much more likely to be out of school, subject to sexual and physical violence, and vulnerable to exploitation including trafficking and early marriage. World Vision’s emergency response programs in places like Syria and South Sudan are working to ensure women and girls have equal access to support and services.
When we work together to protect girls and ensure they are able to reach their full potential, we are ensuring a brighter and more equal future for everyone.
See how you can help to empower girls with our Christmas Gifts catalogue or help support a girl through Child Sponsorship.