Today is International Girls' Day. A day to celebrate all the girls? No, a day to stand up for girls' rights - which is violated and diminished every day and exposes young girls to a life that we can all agree on is completely unreasonable. In poverty and not least in the wake of pandemics where families are destitute and without hope, girls are most at risk of being hit the hardest, writes ActionAid's Secretary General Jennifer Vidmo in a guest column.
Surely it is inconceivable that a girl, a child, should risk being deprived of her childhood, subjected to abuse, violence, forced into a pregnancy or married off to an older man? Yet it is a reality. A reality that 12 million girls around the world are forced to face every year, according to figures from UNICEF, and which we must stop.
Every day a child loses hope if the future is a disaster. Every day a girl loses her childhood, we are steered towards a worse world.
I have many times talked to young girls in different parts of the world about what they dream of and the obvious answer is security. Security which means that life is free from threats, that there is food and a roof over your head. I think it is a reasonable wish and dream. For that dream to come true, the opportunity to go to school is absolutely crucial. The right to go to school and get an education has so far many more positive effects for a girl living in the shadow of poverty or vulnerability. Through education, the opportunity is created to influence one's life through work and knowledge. But it is also a way to reduce the risk of violence, abuse and forced marriage for young girls.
In the struggle for survival that many families find themselves in, not least in the wake of the pandemic, there is no luxury in making priorities or choices - and this is the biggest threat to girls' future. When families fall deeper into poverty, it is the girls who have to pay the price by giving up their schooling, their future dreams and many times the right to their bodies.
Through our staff in the Kalapara district of southern Bangladesh, I recently learned that girls' attendance at school has gone from 37 percent in 2017 to 58.5 percent in 2021. How has this positive development been made possible in one of the world's poorest countries where child marriage is common and also in a time of pandemic, natural disasters and closed schools? Well, it is about a long-term and purposeful work where ActionAid, together with local women's groups, has educated the residents that school is a fundamental right and what positive effects it has, not only on the lives of individuals, but on entire communities. This, in combination with support for families living in poverty, has created a change in norms where schools now closely follow up the school attendance for both girls and boys. This is how we build for the future and ensure that more children can be children.
I do not want to see more child marriages, I do not want to see more girls pregnant, I do not want to see girls exposed to violence, I can never accept that girls grow up with nightmares. ActionAid and other organizations are fighting every day to create a different future, a future where each individual has the power to decide over their own life, where each girl's dream of security becomes a reality.
On Girls 'Day and every other day, I take a stand for girls' rights and I invite you who read this to do the same.