In my day job, I work for humanitarian and development organizations. Though I don’t talk about those issues much on this blog, I wanted to take the time to celebrate the most important – and probably most neglected – resource the world has: girls.
The United Nations declared today the first annual International Day of the Girl Child. This year’s theme is “Ending child marriage”.
If you click that link above, you’ll find some startling statistics:
Globally, around one in three young women aged 20-24 years were first married before they reached age 18. One third of them entered into marriage before they turned 15. Child marriage results in early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening risks for girls. In developing countries, 90 per cent of births to adolescents aged 15-19 are to married girls, and pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death for girls in this age group.
Girls with low levels of schooling are more likely to be married early, and child marriage has been shown to virtually end a girl’s education. Conversely, girls with secondary schooling are up to six times less likely to marry as children, making education one of the best strategies for protecting girls and combating child marriage.
In September I had the privilege of traveling to India to visit some of the projects the foundation I work for funds. I visited a couple of girls’ schools, where I met incredibly enthusiastic students.
When I asked the girls in this photo what they wanted to do when they grew up, almost all of them said, “Be a teacher!” I think that shows how much they love and value their education. The others said they wanted to be a doctor. I hope they all get to realize their dreams.
The two girls in this photo put on a sketch for their classmates. When they finished, they motioned for me to take their picture. One wasn’t enough, though. They kept posing for me, looking at the picture, then giggling together. It reminded me of how important my school friends were when I was that age.
This is a boarding school that takes girls from ethnic minority tribes and from rural areas who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to school. Most of them had dropped out of a previous school because the location was too far or because they were bullied for their ethnicity. The teacher asked them if they had any questions for me. The girl standing up asked, “Why are you so white?” Quite a struggle not to laugh as I said, “Because my parents are very white.”
Wherever you are, please take the time today – and every day after – to give a girl the encouragement she needs. Let’s not forget what a difficult time of life it is, no matter how much or how little money their parents have.
What’s one thing you would change to make life fairer for girls? What’s your strongest memory of school – whether good or bad? How do you encourage the girls in your life?