October 11, 2022, was the eleventh annual International Day of the Girl. The day nominated in 2011 by the United Nations to celebrate girls and bring attention to the problems they face.
But why is there a special day for female children?
ChildFund (Australia) head of public affairs Evelyn Santoro said every child should be cared for, safe and able to take advantage of opportunities when they are young. But she added: “At ChildFund, we do not believe girls’ futures are set in stone at birth. For the global economy, institutions, and nations to prosper, all women must have equal rights and opportunities, and ensuring women’s full potential is both moral and strategic.”
Equal rights for women and universal education were listed as UN Millennium Goals in a global development initiative that ran until 2015. Rephrased with more ambitious targets, they are now UN Sustainable Development Goals, that agencies worldwide are collectively hoping to achieve by 2030.
One of the aims of Australia’s development program is to help lower the death and child mortality rates by investing in girls’ education in our region. In 2019-2020, Australia’s development aid helped more than 576,700 girls and boys go to school, more than 149,800 teachers get training, and more than 3500 women and men get recognised post-secondary qualifications.
Maria Pazo is the girl-led advocacy leader with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, an organisation that celebrated the 2022 Day of the Girl by launching an initiative called Girls Speak Up #ListenToGirls. She explained that they use a unique model of non-formal education to support the development of young people in diverse groups and create a learning environment where young people can take the lead and make choices about what they do.
She said non-formal education is key to lifelong learning because it provides people with autonomy over what and how they study. This sense of ownership and responsibility motivates young people to “learn to learn,” a crucial skill in a changing world.
“Our education is focused on leadership outcomes; we believe that leadership can be developed if it is exercised every day,” she added.
Asked about the Day of the Girl, Curtin University student assistant officer Margot Whittington said it is important to remember that girls of colour and LGBTQIA girls are more likely to be verbally, physically, and sexually assaulted.
Professional writer Clare Reid has written several articles and co-written a white paper about family violence. She said all types of girls encounter challenges like violence, child marriage, pregnancy at a young age and many don’t have opportunities to get paid work.
She added that even though girls have made a lot of progress towards equality, they are still facing problems and unfairness in many parts of their lives. Discussing solutions, she said it is through education that all people can acquire skills that will lead to opportunities, and that the Development Goals and inspirational people, like Malala Yousafzai, help with this.
Mrs Santoro, from Childfund, expanded on this saying: “So, our work in education is focused on ensuring that girls have equal access to school and learning opportunities. This includes offering girls in Southeast Asia school scholarships, which cover tuition costs and provide girls with the supplies and resources they need to stay in school.”
She explained that this is because research has shown that educated girls are less likely to marry early and more likely to have educated and healthy children of their own. She also pointed out that women and girls everywhere should live and work securely in a diverse society where gender does not affect access to rights, resources, opportunities, and protections.
Ms Pazo from the Girl Guides went further and said: “We want new regulations that enable girls to speak out every day, not only on specific days that celebrate a worldwide movement.”
Addressing girls everywhere, she said: “Speak up for the world you want to see! It starts and end with you girls.”
However, Ms Whittington, from Curtin, said: “While girls and young women are striving for the sky and opening doors and chances, there are still many doors that need keys.”