COMMENTARY: The International Day of the Girl is an opportunity to inspire

This year, 2020, has been one of the most challenging years of our collective lifetimes. And as we all face this unprecedented global health pandemic, we are also struggling to find solutions to deep and historic injustices as tensions around systemic biases against marginalized communities have reached a predictable boiling point.

In honour of International Day of the Girl this Sunday, we offer up examples of hope and promise, and celebrate the powerful change that even the smallest and youngest can effect.

In homes and communities around the world, deep-seated social and cultural inequality has affected girl children more than any other group. Girls are regularly subjected to gender-based violence, denied access to equal education, shamed for the appearance and natural functions of their bodies, subjected to preventable malnutrition, forced marriage, unequal division of labour, pay inequality, and a thousand other barriers aimed to diminish their voice and deny their agency.

The goal in advocating for an international day focused specifically on girls was certainly to highlight the challenges girls face, but also to celebrate the ingenious ways in which girls are self-advocating for their rights and making substantive changes at the grassroots level.

Today, nine years after the inaugural United Nations International Day of the Girl, we launch an inspirational resource for children that celebrates the individual achievements girls can make to improve their lives and the lives of others in their communities.

In our book, The International Day of the Girl, we introduce readers to a girl in Brazil who learned martial arts to stay safe, a girl in Kenya who used her carpentry skills to build a washroom for menstruating teens, a girl in India who spoke up about food inequality in her home, and a girl in Canada who advocated the highest levels of government to ensure safe and equal education for all.

These fictionalized stories were inspired by real girls from every region on Earth — from Afghanistan to America — who also inspired the annual celebration of the Day of the Girl on Oct. 11.

Despite the depth of the challenges and the historical longevity of the practices that exist to impede them, these girls have proven themselves indefatigable in innovating solutions and growth. Like determined seedlings, they have proved they will flourish even in the most desolate surroundings.

That garden metaphor is central to our book, illustrating why one group of people might require additional attention and resources to bring them to a point of equal ground (in this instance, girls, but the example serves also to explain why Black and Indigenous Lives Matter).

“One half of the garden is lush and healthy,” the story goes. “It gets all the sunshine and water and attention that it needs to thrive. The other half is wilted and faded. Neighborhood dogs have dug holes, harming the roots and seeds. Careless visitors have trampled the seedlings and sprouts. Passersby plucked blossoms, preventing fruit from growing. And sometimes people sprayed chemicals on the plants, mistaking them for weeds.

“But what happens if the entire garden is allowed to flourish and reach its full potential? The neglected half will be able to catch up and grow strong and healthy, too! Just as gardens need to be nurtured so that they can thrive on their own, so do people. But for a long time, half the children of the world — the girls — have been treated unfairly, often denied the same schooling, freedom, safety and care given to boys.”

When faced with inequities born of intrinsic prejudice, we can all learn from the strength, intelligence, creativity, imagination, bravery, skill, kindness, humour and ambition of girls. This Oct. 11, we encourage everyone to seek out solutions that will level the garden for all, and celebrate the potential of all children (and adults) to make this a more equitable world.

The Hon. Rona Ambrose and Jessica Dee Humphreys are the authors of ‘The International Day of the Girl: Celebrating Girls around the World’ with illustrator Simone Shin. The book is part of Kids Can Press’s CitizenKid collection. Proceeds from Canadian sales of the book will support Plan International Canada.

International Day of the Girl is published by Kids Can Press, a subsidiary of Corus Entertainment, which owns Global News.


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