Today, October 11, is the International Day of the Girl.
Today, I look back on the time that I have lived, and while a lot of things still irk me as it relates to society’s perception and relation with the girl child, I am excited about the lines we have erased and the dents we’ve made on the ceiling.
A lot of people who know me will describe me as confident and self-assured, but I can assure you, I didn’t wake up like this. It took years of deliberate conditioning – of my mind, my outlook on life and how I fit into this equation.
My father has been a very important figure in my life, and developing my sense of self. For as long as I can remember, he has told me consistently that I can be anything I want to be and my being female does not exclude me from journeys that make my heart sing. As a matter of fact, he expects it.
I didn’t think much of it, until I grew up and I realized it wasn’t the same for every girl – for a lot of girls, actually. I have had conversations that broke my heart; of girls being told to their faces they are somehow less just for being born the way they are, that they will never amount to anything and their entire lives is just an experiment in servitude.
According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, there are one billion young people – including 600 million adolescent girls – that will enter the workforce in the next decade. More than 90 per cent of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector, in jobs that are not regulated or protected, and where low or no pay, abuse and exploitation are common. The most disadvantaged girls, including those in rural areas and those with disabilities, have even less access to decent work.
In a report published by the United Nations in August 2018, it is estimated that a total of 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children.
Even though agriculture remains a viable sector for women in developing countries, less than 13% of agricultural landholders are women. The population with access to safe drinking water in rural areas is 20% and women and girls are often responsible for fetching water in these areas thus taking time and focus away from things like getting an education and being trained. Most of the 3.9 billion people not connected to the internet are likely to be poorer, less educated, and rural women and girls. (UN Women)
The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl is “With Her: A Skilled Girlforce.” In addition to classroom education, we need to teach our girls to be confident in who they are, to know without a shadow of doubt they are whole and do not have to prove their wholeness to anyone, but themselves. We need to teach them to evaluate issues on merit and to define who they are in a world that is so fixated on telling them who they should be.
There is a lot that the global community can do, but what can you and I do?
- Build the minds of the girls around you.
Remind them that the biggest limitations they have are the ones that exist in their mind and are embedded in their psyche. When we can break through the shackles that hold our mind captive, our horizon becomes truly limitless.
Whether that is of your time or knowledge. Give young girls in disadvantaged communities’ access; to a different way of doing things, a different outlook. Teach during summer holidays, be a mentor, buy books for them etc. These little drops add up.
- Advocate for education for girls.
The importance cannot be over-emphasized. It is unfair that some children are denied access to education because of their gender. Speak up in rooms where decisions are being made and policies are being created. Make your voice count.
- Address gender stereotypes and the biases in our society.
Do your part, even if that is talking to people and challenging age-long definitions. I promise you it goes a long way. Give them something different to think about and new knowledge to ruminate on. Sow a seed.
- Provide support.
The statistics are chilling of the number of girls subjected to abuse, child marriage and others in that category. Donate, if you can, to organisations that work with them. Your support can provide medical aid, food, clothing, shelter, education. When we provide practical support, we lend a hand, we show them that we stand with them and we have a chance to end vicious cycles.
- Invest in women-owned small businesses
“The world needs me rich,” is one mantra I hold dearly to my heart. Majority of African women are illustrious hard workers who are not afraid to do the work required to build a better life. What they need, is finance to grow. Invest in visionary business women and provide some of the fuel to drive their dreams.
Sometimes, the road seems long, but we’re on it and that in itself, is a victory. I am especially proud of the numerous inspiring young women I am fortunate to cross path with and work with on my journey. You all give me hope that indeed, the future is going to be the one we create. And it will be bright, and glorious, and full of stars. Keep asking questions, keep changing popular narratives, keep growing.
I am with her; the girl who is figuring out this journey, the one who is leaping walls, and the one who has no strength for it all, yet.