Five years ago, the world’s leaders declared October 11 to be “International Day of the Girl Child,” recognizing what was already a consensus among advocates: girls face immense hurdles in reaching their full potential if our policies, legislation and societal structures remain geared to serve the superiority of men. International Day of the Girl Child (IDG) came into being to address the fact that girls need particular and sustained attention in development assistance, diplomacy, and humanitarian responses and to ensure continued attention to this population.
Since 2012, the attention on adolescent girls has maintained, with many promises made and milestones achieved for girls:
- The launch of the US Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, the first-ever government strategy that looks at girls’ lives holistically, with a framework to improve girls’ education, health, and economic prospects;
- The first-ever resolutions at the UN General Assembly and at the Human Rights Council to end child, early and forced marriage;
- The first-ever international Girl Summit, held in London in 2014, followed quickly by the first-ever African Girl Summit, in Zambia the following year;
- The world resolved to end harmful practices that curtail the lives of girls, including child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals;
- US First Lady and President Obama launched Let Girls Learn to ensure the US Government broadened its understanding of barriers to girls’ education to go beyond building schools and training teachers and tackle social norms and gender inequality that keep girls down;
- In the US, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Response (PEPFAR) launched the DREAMS initiative to help girls develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe women, in recognition that girls and young women account for 74 percent of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa and that programs that empower girls are essential to combat that horrifying statistic.
The field as a whole has grown in number and sophistication, with calls for evidence-based, holistic programming taking the place of those looking for “silver-bullet” solutions. The complex challenges that girls face and the root cause of those challenges—gender inequality—are being met more than ever with clear eyes and programming that reflects local realties. In fact, the realities of girls’ lives and challenges have entered the global public consciousness. Malala Yousafzai, who was infamously shot just two days before the first IDG, has risen to international prominence and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, a recognition of her work, surely, but also of the importance the world is putting on the fight for girls’ rights and education.
Today, on the fifth International Day of the Girl, there are sufficient advances and consensus to turn the promises and the rhetoric into real change. Feminist foreign policies from Canada and Sweden show that women and girls issues can be brought into different aspects of government work. Just this month, Dr. Natalia Kanem began her term as head of the UN Population Fund by declaring child marriage among her priorities. The new World Health Organization chief and his executive team have an opportunity to place adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights at the center of their work.
Five years of progress and new beginnings mean it is a time for making leaps, but if governments do not invest in girls, push for holistic programs, and pressure each other to do more and be better, we will fail. If the Trump Administration reneges on the promise of DREAMS and the US Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, we will fail. If ideological goals are placed ahead of girls’ lives and empowerment, we will fail.
IWHC is prepared to continue galvanizing feminist groups and advocating at the highest levels in order to forge ahead and match the ambition that the last five years have wrought with real change in the lives of real girls. We were there to celebrate the first IDG and all of the fundamental first steps that have shown a spotlight on girls’ lives and challenges and we will celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child today. While we celebrate, we also recognize that we are still only at the beginning of what we can collectively do for girls. So our celebration will be through again holding governments, multilateral agencies and our fellow civil society to account for the promises we have made to girls and by calling out when any of us are falling short. We will celebrate by supporting our partners who work directly with girls in some of the most difficult, dangerous places on earth.
Happy International Day of the Girl Child! Celebrate with us by getting to work—there are 1.1 billion girls counting on us.
Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank