International Day of the Girl
When you're celebrating Coming Out Day on Oct. 11 take a moment to remember the girls around the world who live in peril.
In the U.S., October 11 is National Coming Out Day, a day of celebration of LGBT identity. But starting Oct. 11, 2012, the UN has designated October 11th as the International Day of the Girl–additional momentum for that date. (The term "girl" is used by the UN to distinguish females under 18 worldwide.)
The UN General Assembly made the designation in Dec. 2011 and urged all its signatories to sign onto the day in recognition of how badly girl children are treated worldwide and the many disadvantages they suffer, particularly in the developing world and emerging nations. By setting aside a day for advocacy and action by and for girls, the UN declared a commitment to end gender stereotypes, discrimination, violence and economic and educational disparities that disproportionately impact girls.
The UN declaration states in part that this day is about "helping galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential." (UN GA Resolution 12.9.11)
The fact that many countries refused to sign onto the resolution is indicative of how necessary this day is globally. While it’s difficult to imagine any nation not wanting its girls to succeed and advance, throughout the developed and especially the developing world, girls are at risk when they are not in outright danger.
The UN Charter on Women notes that girls are most likely to be refugees in conflict-torn nations. In many countries with ongoing wars and/or ethnic conflicts, rape is a tool of subjugation of girls. In the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), as many as one in three girls in the eastern part of the country has been a victim of rape. The UN estimates that a quarter million women and girls have been raped in the DRC over the past five years, the majority of those rapes being gang rapes with sexual and other mutilation of the victims.
Studies beyond those conducted by the UN show a disturbing trend toward restrictions on the rights of girls globally. On Dec. 10, 2011, International Human Rights Day, the Women’s and Girl’s Rights Index (WGRI) revealed that the rights of girls are at "extreme risk" within at least 80 countries, including 33 from sub-Saharan Africa, nearly all of the Middle East and North Africa region and in many emerging economies, like India and Pakistan, which are not considered "developing" nations.
Young girls and teenagers are considered the most vulnerable to sexual/gender "violations." Girls Discovered, a data base in partnership with the UN, states that the countries of sub-Saharan Africa have among the highest levels of gender violence against girls in the world. GD also notes that in Sierra Leone, Somalia and Guinea between 80 and 90 percent of girls are victims of FGM (female genital mutilation).
The WGRI index listed the top ten nations where the rights of girls were most at risk as Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, DRC, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Burundi, Haiti and Nigeria. Of those nations, Iran and Saudi Arabia have stable economies where women are not at risk from poverty, but Iran has the highest percentage of girls attempting to flee the country. Haiti, Somalia and Afghanistan are among the poorest nations in the world and in each, close to 90 percent of girls are illiterate.
As disturbing as this top ten list is, however, it’s not surprising. Nigeria has long been one of the domestic slave trade nations of the world and Saudi Arabia is notorious for maintaining strictures on women who are not allowed to drive or vote. Both countries have stoned young women to death in recent years for alleged adultery.
Equally shocking, though, is the dearth of countries where girls are at low risk. Only five percent of countries ranked in the low risk category. Of 195 nations, the lowest risks were in New Zealand and Canada (although both noted exceptions for Native peoples in those countries), as well as Denmark, Sweden and Belgium. The U.S. ranked within the 15th percentile of risk for girls. But even among countries like these which ranked among the lowest risk, issues that obtain globally, like forced marriage and forced pregnancy, were still highly problematic.
Among the most worrisome issues globally for girls are femicide, which is actually on the rise, and which includes both sex-selection abortion (notorious throughout Southeast Asia and China, but also in the West) and infanticide of girl children, practiced throughout Asia and Africa. FGM (female genital mutilation) still impacts more than 100 million girls each year with fewer than 50 nations outright banning the practice.
Another risk for girls is starvation–the UN reports that girls are most likely to be starved when there are food shortages due to famine, drought, war/conflict or economic depression; food is given to boys first.
Restrictions on education for girls is a global concern as well. Girls are more than eight times as likely to be illiterate as boys.
In charting the extremes of risk, the WGRI noted that often countries that are advancing in development–such as China, India, Pakistan and Nigeria–put girls in danger. Sweatshop conditions; sex and slave trafficking of girls; honor killings when girls go to work or if they even speak to a man who is not a relative or if they are accused of lesbianism; child labor–all of these issues put girls at tremendous risk, particularly as trade expand throughout the developing world.
Girls are at significant risk in emerging nations where economies are rising faster than protections for girls and women have been implemented. Thus when multi-national corporations move into these nations with expanding economies, the risks posed to girls for both workplace abuse and sexual assaults rises. The WGRI cites Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Phillippines, China, Egypt, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia, Turkey and India among the top nations rated "extreme risk" for girls due to work-related violations, including sexual violence, discrimination, sexual exploitation and trafficking and child labor.
The dangers concomitant with being a girl are global–girls are at risk everywhere and the only way to make the world safer for girls is to make them equal.
Visit DayoftheGirl.org to learn more, to find girl-written introductions to issues like negative media images, sex trafficking, and the denial of education, as well as stories from girls directly involved in achieving the International Day of the Girl.
There is an all day summit where girls from around the world can participate dayofthegirlsummit.com. There is also a toolkit from the Working Group on Girls that includes excellent resources, historical information and activities. You can download this toolkit.