This afternoon I watched as a young girl (probably around 10 years old) danced her way down the aisles of my local supermarket. Just watching her made me smile. She was all about the music in her head and danced freely and joyfully with pure abandon and total disregard for her surroundings.
As I left the shopping centre a mother with two small girls (maybe four and six years old) were in front of me. The two girls were both dressed in fairy costumes which immediately reminded me of many a day in my life where my own two small fairies would accompany me to the shops. Of course, they are now too old for fairy costumes sadly.
I climbed in my car and as I drove home I thought about the girls I’d noticed, the girls in my life and the girls who are making news in the world today, like Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and others.
There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about ‘smart-mouthed’ girls or girls who don’t know ‘their place’. It’s the same male patriarchal figures who are threatened by girls and women who make the most noise.
Unfortunately many girls grow up to be women who are silenced. They lose their voice and lose who they are as a whole person, themselves. I was guilty of this very thing and see it in women around me every day. We get beaten down by a patriarchal society that wants to keep us quiet and docile. Thankfully, slowly, things are changing and many of us are deciding to speak up and do something.
Personally, I work hard every day to raise two young women who know their voice, know their strengths and aren’t afraid to express their opinions to the world. They and their friends give me hope for the future. Other girls like Greta and Malala also give me hope.
Today is the International Day of the Girl.
Of course the statistics show that not every girl on this planet is as lucky as my daughters and their friends. Or as carefree and natural as the three girls I observed today in the shopping centre.
According to the UN, 60% of chronically hungry people in the world are female. Just 39% of rural girls attend secondary school. Every additional year a girl attends primary school increases her eventual wages by 10-20%. It also encourages her to marry later, have fewer children and leaves her less vulnerable to violence. Children of mothers with no education in the Latin American region are 3.1 times more likely to die than those with mothers who have secondary or tertiary education and 1.6 times more likely to die than those whose mothers have primary-level education.
I have spent much of my day reading documents and briefing myself about my new job. One of the things I love about my employer is that 12% of our company earnings are donated to a foundation to help Andean children in poverty to access better education. We also help teenage girls who have been sexually exploited move off the streets and fund education programs for them to become bakers, thus giving them a skill and qualification to use for life. Not only do we provide money, our team in Peru and some of our clients are the volunteers who help these organisations. I’ve held my hand up to help out as soon as I hit the ground there.
For years I’ve wanted to work for an organisation making a difference on the ground to girls and young women. I love that I’ve been able to bring my own girls up to be socially responsible, environmental conscious citizens with their own well thought out and expressed opinions. Now, I am starting a new job where I will get to help other young women too.
I’ve already started thinking about plans to involve the girls I’ll work with in Peru in International Day of the Girl celebrations next year. And after that, who knows? Maybe one of them will rule the world one day. I can only hope.