International Day of the Girl

This weekend, on October 11th, it is International Day of the Girl. This is too important a day to let it pass without comment, so I’m writing this now while I’m at my desk. There are too many girls out there in the world still facing the terrors of war, rape, female genital mutilation, child marriage… And too many being denied an education and the hope of a future that is different to their present. Here’s some sobering facts from the UN Women website:

  • Worldwide, more than 700 million women were married as children (below 18 years of age). More than one in three—or some 250 million—were married before 15. And child brides are often unable to effectively negotiate safe sex, leaving them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.
  • Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.
  • In emergencies, adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to sexual violence, and in some cases, are abducted and exploited for sexual purposes by armed groups.
  • Nearly half (44 per cent) of adolescent girls worldwide aged 15 to 19 think a husband or partner is justified in hitting or beating his wife or partner under certain circumstances.

As a mum of a 10-year-old daughter, my thoughts naturally turn to her on when I think about International Day of the Girl. Because she’s MY girl. And because I love her so so much, I want to protect her from the big, bad world out there. But I also know I can’t, and that it would be wrong to. She is her own person, growing into her own woman. But just this week, I’ve been pondering the messages and life lessons I’ve been giving her. Written after a paragraph listing all the limitations so many girls around the world have, it seems almost flippant to say one of those is about beauty. And yes, I’ve even written about it in my regular column. And yet that issue is about education too. And about what society tells our daughters they must think and feel – and expect.

I’ve loved watching social media’s response to Nadiya Hussain winning the BBC’s Great British Bake Off. People were captivated by her speech and it’s been plastered across my Facebook status page. And rightly so. The words are full of confidence and courage, as well as tenacity and determination:

I’m never going to put boundaries on myself ever again.

I’m never going to say I can’t do it.

I’m never going to say maybe.

I’m never going to say I don’t think I can.

I CAN and I WILL.

This is something I hope and pray for my own daughter, as I watch her struggle with issues such as identity, beauty and friendship. As I try to support her as she navigates the sometimes unfair and pressurised world of preparing for secondary school (we live in a highly oversubscribed, grammar school area).

This is something I hope and pray for our sponsored child, a daughter from Tanzania who wants to be a teacher when she grows up. Whose favourite colour is the same as my son’s, and who is always telling us that she is praying for us when she writes.

This is something that I hope and pray for the other daughters of the world – that they will be granted those opportunities that every girl should have a right to access.

And it is also something that I pray for myself too. Far too often, it is easy to leave courage behind and to allow fear to put those old boundaries up again. But, in the knowledge that my faith brings me, I know we were created to be free, to be brave, fierce, sensitive, creative, to be trailblazers. I want to forge as far ahead as I can in my lifetime, along with my peers, so that my daughter’s generation reach even further than we do.

International Day of the Girl is about ALL our futures – let’s do whatever we can to support and educate the girls of today.

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