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11 October 2013

International Day of the Girl

International Day of the Girl

Ruth Gilson, Girls Brigade and Alliance board member

By Ruth Gilson

Today (11 October), the UN's International Day of the Girl, is a great time to celebrate girls' achievements, giftings and potential, but it's also a challenge – a challenge to reflect on what it's like to be born a woman in the very varied countries around the globe.

The truth is that in too many situations in the world girls are really suffering. Some because they're victims of a wider need in their country, while others struggle simply because they're female.

Today is an important day, because it creates a moment for us to actually consider some of the issues girls face. The International Day of the Girl focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls' empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.

I, for one, hope that today is a day that stirs us all into new involvement in action for and with girls.

Girls and women face discrimination and violence every day and Plan UK's Because I am a Girl campaign highlights some of the shocking statistics…

  • 65 million girls across the world are out of school.
  • Globally, one in five girls of lower secondary school age is out of school.
  • More girls have been 'discriminated to death', than the total number of deaths in all wars and genocides of the 20th century.
  • Every three seconds, another girl is forced or coerced to marry.
  • One in every three girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18.
  • 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 have experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence.
  • The leading cause of death for young women aged 15-19 in developing countries is pregnancy.

Sadly in many parts of the world, it's more dangerous to be a girl than a soldier.

I imagine that many people have seen or heard Malala's story. Somehow she takes us through the easily ignored statistics and shows us the reality of what injustice looks like.

She makes me excited about, and for, girls, yet at the same time appalled that it's only when this kind of courage beyond atrocity is publicised that we're challenged to speak out for girls.

I wonder when it was that we lost sight of the fact that in God's eyes each person, female or male, is created uniquely by God and therefore equally precious?

I wonder why girls are considered second class (maybe even less) in some places in the world.

I wonder why, because of the limits of their lives, so many girls and women don't even realise that their lives could be different?

Today is a Girls' Brigade (GB) kind of day. It's a day to raise girls up. In prayer, in voice and in acts that offer new opportunities for girls to experience hope.

Research shows that the whole society benefits when women are empowered, and educating women is often the key to breaking new ground.

So in GB we're passionate to play our part. We long to see Girls' lives transformed: God's world enriched. We empower girls and young women in local communities around the world to be themselves, to develop and use their gifts and skills, and to discover what it means to have life to the full in their generation.

One example is VillageWorks, GB's initiative in Cambodia. Through a social enterprise approach we train local young women to produce handicrafts and then market them. The scheme benefits more than 60 rural artisans who use indigenous materials and traditional craft techniques.

I believe today is a Church kind of day too. Hope for the hopeless, justice in place of the horror of persecution, good news for girls.

It's a kickstart moment. What will make all the difference of course is, if like GB, long-term commitment is made by Christians to stand with and for girls.

Where will we be by October 2014 I wonder?

Ruth Gilson, National Director of The Girls' Brigade England & Wales