Today is International Day of the Girl, a day set aside by the United Nations to consider the well-being of girls around the world. But why do we need a day devoted to girls? Read on for six concrete reasons.
1. 31 Million School-Age Girls Aren't In School
Around the world, tens of millions of girls are not in school. While girls are gradually catching up to boys in terms of educational attainment, the risks associated with not completing school are higher for girls than for boys. In more than two-thirds of countries, girls and boys have the same level of educational attainment...but that leaves one-third of the world's countries with a gender gap.
Initiatives like Care.org's Help Her Learn project, which helped 2.3 million people get an education last year alone, are working to close the gap. Also, the film Girl Rising documents stories of girls around the world, and the importance of education in their lives. Here's the trailer:
2. Every Day, Almost 39,000 Girls Under the Age of 15 Become Child Brides
Globally, one in nine girls will be forced to marry before her 15th birthday. But if a girl completes secondary school, she's six times less likely to become a child bride. Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of organizations that are working to end child marriage; it has 293 member organizations in 53 countries.
There are also lots of projects around the world providing girls protection from, and alternatives to, underage marriage. One is the Kakenya Center for Excellence (KCE) in Kenya. It's a boarding school for girls from the Maasai community, which has some of the highest child marriage rates in the world. The KCE is using Catapult, a crowdfunding platform for women and girls, to fund their work. Here's a video explaining how Catapult works:
3. Since 2000, the Number of Girls in Child Labor Has Fallen By 40%...But the Number is Still Not Zero
Worldwide, there are as many as 100 million girls (ages 5 to 17) involved in child labor. Over half of the girls involved in child labor are under the age of 11, and more than 25 million girls under the age of 17 work 28 or more hours per week.
While the child labor outlook is grim overall, there are a few bright spots. First, education not only lowers the risk that a girl will enter child labor, but it also reduces the chance that her children will enter child labor down the road. Secondly, certified Fair Trade goods are made without child labor — if you're buying goods from overseas, look for Fair Trade certification. Third, UNICEF is a leader in the fight against child labor; high schoolers can start a UNICEF High School Club to raise awareness about child labor. Finally, in 2010, 97 countries signed the Roadmap for Achieving the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour by 2016, agreeing to adopt policies to fight sex trafficking and child labor hiring, and to support NGOs that work on those issues.
4. In Low-Income Countries, 30% of Girls Aged 15-24 Can't Read, Write, or Do Basic Math
The statistics on education are rough in low-income countries worldwide. However, girls in this age group have surpassed the literacy rate of their parents and grandparents, and they are rapidly catching up to boys: back in 1994, an astounding 47% of girls in low-income countries were illiterate.
Though there is much work left to be done, girls are on the right track; in fact, they look set to pass their male counterparts sooner than you might think. Since 1994, girls' literacy rates have improved by 17 percentage points, compared to boys at 10. The HOPE International Development Agency is improving literacy rates among children by supporting programs in many countries. HOPE's programs for literacy include primary school construction in Afghanistan, leadership training in Burundi, and education programs for street children.
A project by the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) uses cellphones to help reduce illiteracy among Afghan women. Teachers send literacy questions and exercises to women and girls in the program via text messages. Students text the answers back. One girl who was involved in the "mobile literacy" program wrote:
"First I want to write that I am happy that I can read and write at the end of the class. This is a big success for me. Now I feel a big change came in my life during the last four months and I want to list these changes: Before four months I couldn’t read the literacy books, newspapers, and AIL magazines. Now I am able to read them. Before the mobile literacy class I didn’t know how to use a phone or how to write a message. Now I have self-confidence and I decided to go to the regular school next year. Before this class I didn’t have books and magazines in my house, and now I have three books and eleven magazines and I keep them in a small library. This shows that I am one of the eager students of this class. Now I am full of love for knowledge."
5. In Low-Income & Developing Countries, 1 in 4 Girls Under Age 5 are Underweight
Malnutrition is still a serious problem, with an intriguing solution: education. In September, Reuters reported that if all mothers in developing countries completed secondary education, up to 12 million children wouldn't die from malnutrition. The National Family Health Survey conducted a study that found a direct connection between a mother's education and her children's risk of malnutrition. The connection here is twofold: first, educated mothers tend to fare better economically, reducing malnutrition risk in general; second, mothers with education (especially health education) are better able to identify signs of malnutrition and seek help.
Catapult is supporting a project in India run by the Real Medicine Foundation (RMF) which will work to address child malnutrition by bringing awareness campaigns, workshops, and training to 1,500 students. The project still needs funding to empower adolescent girls.
6. The International Day of the Girl Has Inspired 2,043 Events Worldwide (So Far!)
Image courtesy of 10x10
You can find events all over the world inspired by the International Day of the Girl. Here are just a few:
1. In Rwanda, the Akilah Institute for Women will host an entrepreneurship challenge — girls will present their business ideas in front of a panel of judges, who will select the student with the best business idea. Following the business part of the event, girls will participate in a Poetry Slam on the topic "Girl + Education = ?"
2. There will be screenings of the film Girl Rising on four continents. The film will be shown everywhere from Accra in Ghana to the Moshi region of Tanzania, the city of Pune in India, and Yangon in Myanmar. You can find a screening (or request one) using an interactive map.
3. Plan Zimbabwe will bring together girls from 100 schools to discuss the issue of child marriage. Here's a video from Plan International called Transform Her Future: