Rona Ambrose is a member of Plan International Canada’s Board of Directors and led a successful campaign to create a dedicated day for girls at the United Nations in 2012. Kenisha Arora is a Plan International Canada youth ambassador and the cofounder of The HopeSisters.
At the dawn of the last decade, girls were tired.
They were tired of eating last. Of being denied an education. Of experiencing violence. Of being forced into early marriages when they should have been playing in the schoolyard.
Tired of all the daily reminders that they did not matter.
Although women’s and girls’ rights had been legally affirmed since 1979, discrimination continued to undermine their right to thrive. But girls are not easily silenced and, a decade ago, they believed that they needed a day devoted to just them. A day where they would be seen, their voices heard, and their potential recognized.
In 2011, a collective of determined girls from around the globe led the charge at the United Nations to create that special day focused on the rights of girls. The support for their vision was massive, rallying Plan International Canada and the Government of Canada, among many other actors of change. On October 11, 2012, the world marked the first ever International Day of the Girl.
It was cause for great celebration.
Ten years later, we are encouraged by the tangible positive change to girls’ lives since the first International Day of the Girl in 2012. In Realising every girls’ right to flourish, a review of progress on the 10th anniversary of the International Day of the Girl published by Plan International, data shows that outcomes for girls are improving.
For instance, we have nearly achieved gender parity in primary school enrolment and learning outcomes, while secondary school enrolment for girls and young women has increased from 72% in 2012 to 76% in 2020. Meanwhile, the number of girls married as children has decreased by 15%.
Change, however, has been slow and unequal, particularly for young women and girls who are Indigenous, racialized, LGBTQ2S+, living with a disability or of low socioeconomic status. Moreover, in a world still reeling from the combined impacts COVID-19, the climate crisis, conflict, and the polarization of politics, the advances girls have made are being eroded in many aspects of their lives.
Girls and young women aged 15-24 make up the majority of the 267 million young people worldwide who are not in education, training or employment. There are still 5.5 million more girls of primary school age out of school than boys. And no region of the world is on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target of eliminating child, early and forced marriage by 2030. Progress is an unrelenting pursuit – one that continues to be out of reach for far too many girls.
Girls and young women need to be seen as equal partners in addressing the greatest challenges of our time. To build a prosperous future we cannot leave half of the world’s population behind. Adolescent girl activists have led some of the most important movements of the last decade – fighting for their right to safety from violence, for education, for climate justice, and their right to political representation. The world’s 600 million adolescent girls, like those who led the charge for the International Day of the Girl, continue to show that they are the activists this world needs now, driving progress in their communities, countries and beyond.
But we are still a long way from a world of equal opportunity. And girls are still fighting for their rights – let’s make sure they are not fighting alone.