Today is International Day of the Girl. Girls – and women – can break barriers, lift communities, and drive change across the world, and when given the chance – they do just that. But far too often, girls and women are forced to hurdle nearly impassible obstacles.
In many parts of the world, harmful social norms mean that girls and women are turned away from the opportunities they deserve. Year after year, that’s led to girls being removed from the classroom, losing access to the productive jobs – and the leadership roles – that they could have used to change the world.
Before the pandemic, for example, more than 130 million girls were out of school – and after, an additional 10 million may never return. In countries around the globe, 750 million women and girls alive today were married before the age of 18, and 200 million have been subjected to female genital mutilation – with life-long consequences. On top of that, in times of global confinement due to the pandemic, girls are more likely to be cut off from the internet platforms they need to learn, connect and grow - even before COVID-19, the gender gap for global internet users grew from 11 per cent in 2013 to 17 per cent in 2019.
This year, the International Day of the Girl is focused on utilizing the digital revolution to open avenues for women and girls. Under the theme Digital Generation. Our Generation., the International Day seeks to amplify girls who have soared through digital technologies while shedding light on digital barriers many face, seeking to create more opportunities to harness the power of the internet and improve their lives – along with those of their families and societies.
Technology is shaping the way people live, work and connect everywhere. Because of that, it is essential that women and girls – half the world’s population – are not left behind. Still:
- Globally, the percentage of females among Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics graduates is below 15 per cent in over two-thirds of countries.
- In middle- and higher-income countries, only 14 per cent of girls who were top performers in science or mathematics expected to work in science and engineering, compared to 26 per cent of top-performing boys.
- Only 22 per cent of artificial intelligence professionals globally are women.
Earlier this year, the Generation Equality Forum launched a five-year commitment for bolder gender-equality impacts, including closing the gender divide in technological connectivity.
“Across the world, the gender gap within technology is growing, leaving girls and women behind,” said Dr Howard Taylor, Executive Director of the End Violence Partnership. “We all have a responsibility to equip girls with the tools, knowledge and access to truly utilize the opportunities the internet holds.”
UNICEF has compiled the stories of girls and young women around the world who are supporting their communities through in-person and digital action. Read about Oumou, Belen, Somaya, Hasmik, and Sebabatso to learn more, and explore the stories of our End Violence Champions working for and with girls and young women.
Ericka: Speaking up and making change
Since the age of 4, Ericka has put her community first. Hailing from Quezon City, Philippines, Ericka grew up in an informal settlement community – and as a result, witnessed the challenges faced by children around her. First as a participant in educational and recreational programming, and then as an active leader in those initiatives, Ericka became a member of the National Anti-Poverty Commission at the age of 12, committing herself to speaking about children’s rights, challenges and concerns at the national and international levels.
In April, Ericka spoke at an End Violence Partnership event dedicated to ending corporal punishment. Soon after, we spoke to her directly, learning more about her passion for social justice and her belief that children, no matter where they live, should have a place at the decision-making table.
Sarafina: An activist and World Vision Youth Leader from Ghana
For years, Sarafina has fought to end violence against women and children in Ghana. Sarafina has been witness to violence throughout her life: first, when her mother suffered domestic abuse in her home, and later, when child marriage forced her friends from the classroom.
To combat these realities faced by countless women and girls, Sarafina became a World Vision Young Leader and a member of her school’s child parliament. In both roles, she has become an outspoken activist against child marriage, violence against women, and other forms of abuse and exploitation. In the future, Sarafina hopes to continue this work for life, inspiring others and bringing real, sustainable change across Ghana. She hopes to become both a medical doctor and a lawyer – combatting violence against women and girls from both the individual and national levels.
Shaylyn Fahey: A medical student from the United States
On December 14, 2012, a small American town was rocked by a nearly unimaginable crime: a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot 20 first-graders, six adults, and his mother before shooting himself.
Shaylyn Fahey was just 15 years old at the time – and eight years later, she is still trying to make sense of what her community was forced to live through. Instead of backing away, however, Shay threw herself even deeper into what she had experienced, leveraging her interests in neuroscience, psychology and health care to better understand the root causes of violence.
Part of this work was with the Avielle Foundation, an organisation established by Jen and Jeremy Richman after their daughter, 6-year-old Avielle, was killed in the shooting. In the years since, Shay has not only grappled with trauma from the 2012 massacre, but from the loss of Jeremy himself, who took his own life in March of 2019.
Photo credit, in order of appearance: UNICEF/UN0466334/Wilander; UNICEF/UN0466334/Wilander