For the past 4 years, October 11th has been more than just a day to me. It has been a commemoration, a celebration, and a reminder that half of the world is not yet equal.
As a girl, I personally experienced a number of health issues — Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, an eating disorder, clinical depression. Because I understand what it means to hit rock bottom mentally, physically, and emotionally, I helped lead a girl’s empowerment nonprofit, Healthy Girls Save the World, during college. I strived to be a healthy role model so that the girls understood that their beauty stems from strength, intelligence, and self-care, not weight and make-up.
But I was fortunate to have the resources, love, and capacity to better my health. As I learn more about the world, I am consistently met with the fact that is not true for all girls. Whether relegated to housework, barred from receiving an education, forced into early child marriage, or taught that they cannot excel in STEM fields, girls all over the world face unique challenges to leading daily lives.
Worldwide up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16. A baby girl is breastfed 6–8 weeks less than a baby boy. Nearly one million child deaths could be prevented each year if girls were exclusively breastfed during their first six months of life. In Zambia, 35% of girls who are of official primary school age are not in school. In Malawi, 50% of schoolgirls have been touched in a sexual way without their consent by their teachers or classmates. In India, there are approximately 914 girls to every 1,000 boys due to sex selection and female foeticide. In the United States, girls can expect to earn less than boys when they grow up. The list goes on and on.
Girls around the world face barriers to health, education, and suffer disproportionately from child marriage, poverty, sexual assault, violence, trafficking, and child labor due to gender inequality and discrimination.
In 2011, the United Nations declared that October 11th would be known as International Day of the Girl Child to recognize girls’ rights and the obstacles that girls face around the world. This year’s International Day of the Girl Child theme is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030. The girls of today will mature into the women of tomorrow, with the potential to change the world as tomorrow’s mothers, workers, educators, innovators, political leaders, entrepreneurs, and change makers. Investing in the power of our adolescent girls today ensures their right to an equitable future tomorrow in a world where women and men are valued equally.
I recently asked individuals all over the world to submit a photo that captured #WhyAllGirls matter to them, and the response has been overwhelming. From the United States to Guatemala, to Rwanda to Germany, people all over the world believe that all girls are important and deserve equality.
Through efforts of achieving the new Global Goals, let us commit ourselves to not only reflecting on the inequality and discrimination that keeps so many girls from living happy, health lives on International Day of the Girl, but today and always so that we may create a future in which all children are equal.
Reena Gupta is a 2015–2016 Global Health Corps fellow at the Copperbelt Health Education Project in Zambia. All GHC fellows, partners and supporters are united in a common belief: health is a human right. There is a role for everyone in the movement for health equity. Join the movement today.
Read more from Reena about her quest for gender equity on her blog.