The United Nations has declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child to focus attention on girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. This year’s observance targets education.
Around the world, girls are not only deprived of education, they are punished for seeking knowledge. The most famous case is that of Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head one year ago by Pakistani Taliban for speaking out on the need to educate Pakistani girls. Malala survived, and is now a favorite for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
But Malala’s story is only one of many. In poor countries worldwide, as well as countries in conflict, girls are deprived of education more often than their brothers. Thirty million girls around the world are not in elementary school. In Nigeria, the sixth biggest oil producer in the world, many girls receive just six months of education over their entire lives.
But it’s not all bad news – and the International Day of the Girl Child celebrates good news, too. There are programs like Room to Read, which works across Asia and Africa to promote literacy and gender equality in education. In India, PACE Universal nurtures the education, health, and social development of girls in the one of the world’s most impoverished regions.
Well, you may be thinking, there’s no problem here. In the U.S. all girls have access to education, and girls even outnumber boys now in high school graduation rates and college enrollment. True enough. And there’s no disputing that girls born in the U.S. have won the lottery of life compared to girls in poor and war-torn countries.
But despite our prosperity and universal education, we still have work to do. Girls are lagging far behind in science, math, and technology enrollment. It’s a gender gap our country can’t afford, and some innovative programs at lower levels are trying to overcome it early.
Two programs doing just that are Coastal Studies for Girls, which introduces junior high girls to marine science, and Girls Who Code which works to educate and inspire high school girls to go into computer science. Both are nurturing the female technology leaders of tomorrow.
So that’s the good news for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child. If the world works together, maybe in another generation we won’t have to have a special day, because girls worldwide will at last be getting the education – and respect – they deserve.
In addition to hosting her radio show, guest contributor Martha Burk is the author of Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics and the Change We Need! and Cult of Power: The Inside Story of the Fight to Open Augusta National Golf Club, and How It Exposed the Ingrained Corporate Sexism That Kept Women Down.