In light of the many empowerment needs confronting us on a daily basis, nothing stands out more than the urgency of empowering the “girl child.” And in light of the many tragic circumstances that surround her, the girl child stands in the front-line of all forms of discrimination, stereotypes, and child abuse.
For those of us who advocate for the need to empower women, we cannot do so without fighting for the rights of the girl child — for we as women are nothing more than an extension of her past, a living proof of her present, and hopefully — a celebration of her future: A girl child empowered is a woman enlightened, and a woman enlightened sets the stage for a hopeful future. A girl child discriminated against is a woman abused, and a woman abused has no stage to set.
Tomorrow, Oct. 11, is a day for reflection. It is the 2nd anniversary of a day commemorated by The United Nations General Assembly as “The International Day of the Girl Child.” The term “girl child” has many connotations but at its core, it is used to emphasize the unique challenges faced by girls under the age of 18 — from those faced by women nurtured in similar circumstances.
For in the poorest regions of the world, women and girls are among the most disadvantaged people on earth and in many countries especially Third World ones, the girl child suffers from many human rights violations, and therefore the urgent need for our advocacy and protective mechanisms. Hence, at its core, this international day serves the purpose of galvanizing the global community to demand that the basic human rights of the girl child are met and enforced.
What such a day hopes to achieve is to set in motion our will and determination to give a voice to the voiceless, and a face to the faceless: Our duty as informed citizens is to make sure that the girl child is protected against all forms of discrimination based on her gender, her age and her race. Our duty is to ensure that she enjoys a standard of living adequate for her intellectual, physical, moral and spiritual development, that she has equal access to health care, food and nutrition and that she lives within a healthy and safe environment that allows her to live her childhood to its full potential.
However, and more importantly, what such a day hopes to achieve is to set in motion our collective will and determination to secure the girl child’s basic human right to a free and compulsory education — an education that is gender-neutral and non-discriminatory. Educating the girl child is not a luxury but a burning necessity.
Troubling global statistics prove that if we leave the status quo as it is, our world will be heading toward a bleak and gloomy future. It is estimated that by the year 2015, 64 percent of the world’s adult population will consist of illiterate women and the main reason being that at this point in time, only 30 percent of girls in the world are enrolled in secondary school; It is also known that girls are more likely to go without schooling than boys, and that in the Middle East and North Africa regions, girls are three times more likely than boys to be denied an education mainly because of the increase in child-bride practices which has one in seven girls being married-off before the age of 15. And worst of all, estimates state that as many as 1.2 million children (boys and girls) are systemically being trafficked every year for various purposes, mainly prostitution.
Breaking this cycle is a must and it has been done in many cases which have proved that investing smartly in educating the girl child has great dividends for she will eventually give back in countless ways to improve the lives of her family, her community and eventually her country. International days serve a good purpose, but in themselves they have no power without the buy-in and advocacy of people like you and me. At the end of the day, if we genuinely want a better future for all, we cannot assume that it is someone else’s responsibility to make it happen, for the best form of empowerment is the one that starts from within.
Fatin Bundagji is the president of TLC Consultancy. the article was published in the Saudi-based Arab News on Oct. 10, 2012