Today is International Day of the Girl Child, and the theme for this year is “Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement”. As UN Women explains, this is ‘a call for action for increased investment in collecting and analysing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data.’
One of the reasons that stands in the way of girls making progress is a lack of education. When I realised that today is the Day of the Girl, I immediately thought of my daughter: how much I love her and how proud I am of her. She is so fortunate because she is given free access to education. She is at the point this year of choosing secondary schools and our area is one in which competition is fierce and the grammar schools, in particular, attract applicants from miles away. Some of the comprehensives, as well as the grammars, have entrance exams and so my daughter has been juggling various tests and auditions alongside her usual school work. She has had week after week of study and exams – and has done amazingly well under the pressure. I have felt so keenly how unfair the system is, especially when other counties across England have no such approach. But I have also been proud of how my daughter has risen to the challenge and met every new obstacle with a gritty determination.
I want my daughter to know that she is loved for who she is – not for how she performs in tests. But I also want her to know what a privilege it is to be educated freely. I want her eyes to be open to the plight of other girls her age around the world. In developing countries (excluding China), one in every three girls is married before reaching the age of 18. This stunts their progress, not just because child marriage is often followed by pregnancy – even if a girl is not yet physically or mentally ready. Every day, over 20,000 girls under age 18 give birth in developing countries – over 7 million a year.
The statistics are still horrifying and I long for the day when they won’t be, remembering soberly that each number stands for a girl’s life. Today I simply want to stand alongside UN Women’s statement: ‘On the International Day of the Girl Child, we stand with the global community to support girls’ progress everywhere. Let girls be girls.’ They are the women of the future – let us celebrate them not just today, but by doing all we can to support organisations that are seeking to educate and empower girls right around the world.
* Stats taken from UN Women.