International Day of the Girl Child - A girl’s perspective
By Sihle Mazibu
Recognition has long been given to women and children through International Women’s Day and The International Day of the Child. However, neither of these days indicates the unique significance of girls in society. As a result, on December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child. This day is vital as it celebrates the power and importance of girls. It also highlights the issues and challenges faced by many girls in our society and compels us to seek solutions on how these challenges should be redressed and corrected.
Girls are a vulnerable demographic and experience multiple social, economic and political challenges. Girls are impacted differently and more drastically by these conditions than their male counterparts and so another key aim of this day is to call upon a fair and equal world amongst girls and boys, where both genders, particularly girls, have equal opportunities.
The United Nations (UN) has set aside key investments needed to empower and uplift girls by 2030. A few of these investments include quality education, health and nutrition essential to girls in their adolescent years, the prevention of physical, sexual and mental violence against girls and the implementation of policies to protect girls who are marginalised and vulnerable or are victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking. In his 2015 statement on the International Day of the Girl Child, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon said, “Girls everywhere should be able to lead lives free from fear and violence. If we achieve this progress for girls, we will see advances across society.Our task now is to get to work on meeting the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) targets and making good on our promises to give girls all the opportunities they deserve as they mature to adulthood”.
One of many challenges faced by girls is access to education which remains a necessity in the attempt to break the cycle of poverty and uplift disadvantaged girls. Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani activist, personifies this challenge as she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 because she went to school and solemnly believed that girls should be allowed to receive an education. Malala appeared on the American TV programme, The Daily Show, in June 2015 and gave a powerful message saying, “Educating girls has benefits not just for themselves but also for their families, communities and countries. With a quality education, girls can make informed choices, improving their country's social and economic well-being by promoting the health and welfare of the next generation."
In South Africa, and many parts of the world, a large number of girls experience difficulty excelling in their education. This is a result of various factors such as having to lead their households, teenage pregnancy, which leads to dropping out of school, and even the lack of access to sanitary towels, which causes girls to skip school when on their menstrual cycle because of the fear of embarrassment or stigma. It is important that we tackle this challenge through initiatives and organisations such as Always Keeping Girls in School which distribute sanitary pads to girls in impoverished communities and those such as Project Dignity founded by Sue Barnes, who says that of nine million girls aged between 13 and 19 years in South Africa, 80% miss a week of school every month - time that costs them their education.
Another issue which affects many South African girls and needs urgent attention is sexual exploitation and HIV and AIDS. Typically, abuse of power by many men who surround girls’ lives contributes to their vulnerability to sexual exploitation which leads to HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. The Department of Health recently determined that girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are up to eight times more likely to be HIV positive than males of the same age. A rise in HIV infections of girls in that age group also indicates this. Rigorous campaigns should be initiated in order to target HIV infections amongst women and girls. The so-called “sugar-daddy” and “blesser” frenzy is also one that needs to come to an end because it sees older men dating and having sexual relations with girls and this does not aid attempts to prevent girls from contracting HIV.
An important step in bridging the gap of inequality between girls and boys is to teach and expose young girls to their rights in order for them to recognise that they too have the power and potential to succeed and become leaders. We also need to tackle the lack of opportunities for girls and issues such as poverty which contribute to their vulnerability. Girls need to be empowered to use their rights against the exploitation and the domination that they experience at the hands of men across the globe. It is also crucial for girls to empower and support one another instead of bringing each other down because this does not achieve a successful result but rather worsens the inequality that girls will face when they mature into women.
*Sihle Mazibu is a young journalist who participates in Media Monitoring Africa’s Children’s News Agency which aims to enhance the voices and participation of children in mainstream media. This article wa first published by The Citizen.