October 11 is International Day of the Girl Child, and it’s time for us to ask ourselves: Why do girls feel unsafe not only in countries like Nepal, but also on Australian streets? Why do they feel less valued than boys? Why is there demand for commercial sex that enables trafficked young girls and women to continue to come to Australian shores? And, most importantly, what can we do to continue to address gender inequality?
Indira, 14, walks 30 mins everyday – literally crossing hills – to get to school. Despite the difficulties of growing up in remote Nepal, she is determined to make the most of opportunities that come her way.
Indira is intentionally involved in her own education in and outside the classroom.
She helped decide the extra curricular activities in her school after finding out what interests the other students. She participated in a menstruation campaign in her community, raising awareness about hygiene and nutrition during menstruation. She, along with her friends, proposed for and received a grant from the local government to build a special resting room in their school so girls could still come to school when they have their period.
Indira was part of the birth registration campaign too. Since most of the previous generation in Nepal were married early, they did not register their marriage or the birth of their children. Many in Indira’s community did not know the value of a birth certificate in establishing their identity. So Indira and her friends met local government representatives and had the births of all students in her school registered. Now they are looking to doing the same for the school in the next village.
Unfortunately, not every girl child is able to attend school like Indira, or receive opportunities to become a change agent. Conflict and violence, poverty, humanitarian disasters and gender discrimination are barriers that prevent children, especially girls, from reaching their full potential.
What about girls in Australia?
According to Plan International’s Everyday Sexism Report*, more than two-thirds of girls and young women believe gender inequality remains a persistent problem in Australia, only eight per cent believe they are treated equally to boys, and only 16 per cent feel they are always valued for their intelligence or mental ability.
Even more worryingly, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP)**, Australia continues to be a destination country for human trafficking. UNODC estimates that 70% of trafficking victims are female, and nearly one third of detected trafficking victims worldwide are children – mainly girls. When we talk about gender inequality, it’s natural to think that these issues affect women, but in fact, gender inequality begins early in girlhood.
How do we fight sexism, celebrate girls and empower them to reach their God-given potential?
- By supporting organisations that enable girls to stay in school for longer, provide opportunities for women to learn vocational skills so that they can sustain themselves and their families, and raise awareness among boys and men against violence, trafficking, early marriage and child labour. This will help grow girls and women strong for life, and
- By challenging inequality in Australia through our own beliefs, actions and words, and by encouraging the girls in our lives to set goals and achieve them.
**https://www.afp.gov.au/what-we-do/crime-types/human-trafficking and http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/GLOTIP_2014_full_report.pdf