Today is the International Day of the Girl Child. It is a day set aside to focus attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.
This year, Africa joins the rest of the world to commemorate the 2021 International Day of the Girl-Child under the theme “Digital generation. Our generation,” while acknowledging the growing digital world with a focus is on bridging the digital divide.
Advocates have lamented that there is little to celebrate with problems ranging from sexual abuse, lack of education, gender-based violence, religious and cultural biases, early/child marriage, discrimination, and undernourishment, to female genital mutilation. These setbacks impede her development and stunt equality with the opposite gender.
With all these challenges plaguing the girl child, the United Nations sought a reversal of gender unfairness globally during its General Assembly on December 19, 2011, when it adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare October 11 each year as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.
According to a statement issued by the Save the Children group, more than an estimated 22,000 girls a year are dying from pregnancy and childbirth resulting from child marriage.
With the highest rate of child marriage in the world, West and Central Africa account for nearly half (9,600) of all estimated child marriage-related deaths globally, or 26 deaths a day. In addition, the regional teenage maternal mortality rate is four times higher than anywhere else in the world.
Although nearly 80 million child marriages globally have been prevented in the last 25 years, progress had stalled even before the COVID-19 pandemic—which has only worsened inequalities that drive child marriage.
With school closures, health services under strain or closed, and more families being pushed into poverty, women, and girls face an increased risk of violence during lengthy lockdowns. A further 10 million girls are now expected to marry by 2030, leaving more girls at risk of dying.
This year, the Generation Equality Forum launched a five-year commitment for bolder solutions to gender inequality just as the world entered the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the pandemic has accelerated digital platforms for learning, earning and connecting, some 2.2 billion people below the age of 25 still do not have internet access at home.
Girls are more likely to be cut off. The gender gap for global internet users grew from 11 per cent in 2013 to 17 per cent in 2019. In the world’s least developed countries, it hovers around 43 per cent but the gender digital divide is about more than connectivity.
Girls are also less likely than boys to use and own devices, and gain access to tech-related skills and jobs. Only by addressing the inequity and exclusion that span geographies and generations can we usher in a digital revolution for all, with all.
Education is the right of every girl everywhere and key to transforming her life and the life of her community. Without education, girls are denied the opportunity to develop their full potential and to play a productive and equal role in their families, their societies, their country and their world.
Adolescent girls have the right to a safe, educated, and healthy life, not only during these critical formative years, but also as they mature into women. If effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world – both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, political leaders and mothers.
Gender equality is a global priority for UNESCO, and the support of young girls, their training and their full ability to make their voices and ideas heard are drivers for sustainable development and peace. In too many cases accross the globe, teenage girls drop out of school, due to forced marriages or child labor. UNESCO is committed to celebrating this day to ensure that all girls have access to quality education and a dignified life