In December of 2011 the United Nations acknowledged the need to recognize girls’ rights and also to acclaim the particular tasks it means to be a young girl; thus, declaring October 11 the Day of the Girl Child. More often than one could imagine, people don’t clearly understand how difficult it could be for a girl to have access to different services that often are taken for granted by most societies. Even though education and public health are services that every State should provide to its citizens, they sometimes are not able to cover all of their population and young girls have an even harder time to access these services than the rest of the members of the society. Although declaring a specific date in the calendar as the day of the girl child might not fix a young girls’ reality, it points in the right direction.
Human Rights, in a way, determine the basic needs of a person, the tools that are required to achieve its goals and live its life with dignity. In spite of the great step forward taken by this Declaration regarding the assurance of the basic needs a human being has; the need to acknowledge the specific rights of a child arose. Ten years after all members of the United Nations recognized the rights of every human on the face of the earth, they decided that this was not enough for the children around the world. Their rights needed to be specified in order to assure their proper growth and development. As a result, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted in 1959 by the General Assembly. This declaration, in Article 2, made it very clear that the “best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration” and also that every child “shall enjoy special protection”. It goes without saying that the Declaration in its first article states that there should not be any type of discrimination. And yet, child girls and adolescent girls live very difficult lives as a result of discrimination.
In spite of the fact that education is regarded as a human right and a right of the child, school enrollment is not universal. Governments along with international organizations have put a lot of efforts in trying to universalize primary school yet, according to the World Bank, the net percentage of school enrollment of some countries for example Eritrea is below fifty percent. This means that of all children of school age, less than half are attending primary school. Another alarming example of children not attending schools and specifically girls is Pakistan. As of 2012, there were more that 3 million girls who were not attending school in addition to more than 2 million boys in the same condition. Violence is sometimes the main reason why girls cannot satisfy their right to education. For example, in Bolivia it is believed that at least 50% of women have suffered sexual, physical or psychological violence caused by men. Additionally, there are studies that suggest that cultural values have a large effect in the access to education and the reduced presence of girls in school. For example, there are certain cultures in West Africa that don’t support girls’ formal education because they believe that this will provide little to none economic prosperity. However, according to UNESCO for every extra year spent in school there is a 10% increase in an individual’s earnings.
The Day of the Girl Child of this year is dedicated to empowering adolescent girls and ending the cycle of violence. This reminds us the importance of educating and providing the same opportunities to both girls and boys. When a girl child is able to receive education it is less likely that she will get pregnant in her early years and also education reduces the amount of children women will have. For example, UNESCO explains that in Mali, women who attended secondary school have half the children than those women with no education who often have an average of 7 children. As a result of gender inequality in general, and specially in access to education, to achieve gender equality is so important that women have sought to be more represented in politics than ever before and as an evidence of this, they now occupy an average of 21.8% of parliaments of the world, compared to only an 11% in the 1990s. The average percentage seems quite small when compared to the average percentage of the Nordic countries of 42.1%.
Although governments, international organizations and civil society groups are all joining forces to tackle the problem of gender inequality, the reality that girls have to face every day is horrendous and calls for much more attention and help. This reality is unjustifiable and unacceptable. Empowering adolescent girls, as the focus of this Year’s Day of the Girl Child is, seeks to reduce violence, increase their opportunities at educating themselves and becoming more engaged with their political and economical environment. Finally, it is the awareness of the problem that, hopefully someday, translates into real change and gender equality. This is a matter that involves us all, regardless of sex, gender, religion, nationality or political views and that requires all of us to act towards the solution.