Girls, today is your day! Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day designated by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the challenges faced by girls around the world.
Though the world has taken strides toward achieving gender equality in recent decades, there’s still a long way to go. Millions of girls are still married before the age of 18. In countries like the UK, Egypt, and Eritrea, many girls are still subjected to female genital mutilation. And most countries still have large gender wage gaps and a lack of female representation in politics.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. Everyone has a part to play in making sure girls and women are treated equally and have access to equal opportunities. Here are six ways you can help bring the world closer to its goal of gender equality.
Girls, advocate for yourselves and your education.
Education is a human right — regardless of your gender, you have a right to an education.
According to UNICEF, “When we educate a girl, we not only give her the tools and knowledge to make her own decisions and shape her own future, we also help raise the standard of living of her family and her community.”
Educated girls have the skills and knowledge they need to lead more independent lives, which could help them advocate against and avoid child marriage, as well as female genital mutilation. Girls who have little or no education are up to six times more likely to be married as children than girls who have secondary schooling, UNICEF says.
Globally, around 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 each year. And girls who are married as children lose out on opportunities — like going to school — and are more likely to ultimately pass on poverty, lower levels of education, and lower health outcomes to their children.
Girls who are educated are better able to contribute to their own growth and development, as well as that of their countries and their families.
Decisions are being made for girls and women, but also without them. Women’s political participation and representation is lacking all over the world.
Yet women and girls can be vital to policy making and peacebuilding. In fact, research has shown that including women in the peacebuilding process increases the likelihood of ending violence and reaching a lasting peace agreement.
So get involved. Run for student government or join the leadership of a local board or community organization. Figure out what issues you want to tackle and what position will let you do that and then run for it! You can start small, but dream big.
Do just you wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school? Do you wish that you could bake a cake out of rainbows and smiles and we’d all eat it and be happy?
Sure, “Mean Girls” is by no means a documentary — but girl on girl bullying is a real thing at school, in the workplace, and the world. It doesn’t have to be though. Other girls and women can be a great resource and support network.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand credits her female colleagues with some of her success. In an interview with New York Magazine she said she relied on other women in congress for support, and even those who didn’t support her bill had advice to offer.
Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operation Officer of Facebook and author of “Lean In,” encourages women to mentor other women. And she says it’s not just about more experienced and established women helping younger women get their start, but about creating a community. Sandberg says young women should mentor each other too. Even if you’re at the same level you have unique experiences and support to offer one another.
“When women celebrate each other’s accomplishments, they’re seen as more professional and accomplished as well,” she says. “So supporting other women helps each other, helps women as a group, and also helps the woman that does it.”
Boys and men, speak up on behalf of girls and women — because girls shouldn’t have to fight for gender equality alone.
Gender equality isn’t just about girls fighting up for what is right, it’s also about boys standing up to what is wrong because, as Hillary Clinton famously said, “women’s rights are human rights.”
“Fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating,” Emma Watson said when UN Women launched its “He for She” campaign in 2014. But that’s not the case, and boys and men have a role to play in the world’s struggle for gender equality too.
“Being a feminist for me means recognising that men and women should be, can be, must be equal and secondly, that we still have an awful lot of work to do,” Canadian President Justin Trudeau said at the UN.
Boys and men can promote gender equality by advocating for girls’ education and equal pay, and they can fight against discrimination by speaking up when they witness inappropriate behavior or comments whether that’s on the street or in the locker room.
During the first presidential debate, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton up to 51 times in just an hour and a half. California Sen. Kamala Harris was interrupted, criticized, and silenced by a male senator during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
Unfortunately, almost every girl or woman has a story like that. The New York Times invited its readers to share their experiences, and the stories came pouring in. “I can’t even count the number of times I’ve witnessed a woman being interrupted and talked over by a man, only to hear him later repeat the same ideas she was trying to put forward,” one reader wrote.
Help level the law and eliminate gender discrimination.
All over the world, countries have taken steps to remove gender discriminatory policies from legislation this year.
El Salvador just abolished a law allowing men to marry underage girls who they have impregnated. Jordan and Lebanon overturned laws that enabled rapists to avoid punishment if they married their victims. Last month, Tunisia scrapped a law which prohibited Muslim women from marrying outside their faith.
But there is still much more to be done to level laws around globally.
Though child marriage is illegal in most countries, legal loopholes allow the harmful practice to continue. There are 46 countries that do not have offer legal protection against domestic violence.
In some cases, gender discrimination in legal systems is much more explicit. In Saudi Arabia, women are required to have a male guardian accompany them to do the most basic of tasks, like open a bank account.
Laws like these “that discriminate against women and girls, entrench and perpetuate gender inequality,” the Executive Director of UN Women has said. “We need to create a change that lasts and breaks the cycle of discrimination for good, so that the progress we have made prevails in future generations.”
The Mordi Ibe Foundation campaigns to level the law by amending gender discriminatory policies. Today being the International Day of the Girl Child, there’s no better time to take action and join the fight to put an end to gender inequality than right now.