The first International Day of the Girl, a United Nations initiative to promote gender equality around the world, was Oct. 11. When I explained the day to my extra-curricular group for girls, their responses varied. One student remarked that a day wasn’t enough, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Another noted that it was about time someone recognized the multitude of issues that girls face. Still another asked why we needed a day at all.
I was shocked that for these girls under 18 and dedicated to talking about pertinent girls’ issues, it could be unclear why we needed a Day of the Girl. I started doing some research. My students and I were all astounded by the statistics I found:
- In developing countries, 1 in 7 girls marry before age 15. About 1 in 2 girls will become a mother by the age of 18.
- Also in developing countries, the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 is complications due to early pregnancy.
- In the United States, 54 percent of third- through fifth-grade girls and 78 percent of high school girls worry about their appearance.
- About 7 in 10 girls between ages 15 and 17 who give birth in the United States drop out of high school.
- Each year, about a third of teenage girls in the U.S. report experiencing physical abuse from someone they’re dating.
These stats barely scratch the surface, but any one of them is enough to convince anyone that it is necessary to commemorate Day of the Girl in some way each year. The day will be an annual event.
After hearing those statistics, my girls jumped to action. We contacted our principal and set up a morning announcement to be read over the PA system that included some of the statistics. When students heard them, they too were shocked. We also distributed a guide to help teachers discuss some issues confronting girls, both in the United States and around the world.
Next year, we plan to raise more awareness by having local and public officials read a proclamation.
Holding annual Day of the Girl celebrations is an important step to increase awareness of issues, and honor girls in our communities and beyond. The girls in my group told me that the Day of the Girl activities and discussions our school held left them feeling empowered. That is a giant step toward equality.
Samsa is a freelance writer and teaches high school English in the south suburbs of Chicago.