International Day of the Girl

Since 2012, we have been marking the 11th October as the International Day of the Girl. It makes sense, when we have an International Women’s Day, to have one for girls too, and the day aims to “focus on the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of human rights.” Each International Day of the Girl comes with its own theme or focus, and this year it’s With Her: A Skilled GirlForce.

There’s absolutely no denying that there is lack of equality in the workplace for women. Of course it varies from job to job, but generally speaking women are paid less, pitted against each other, have men selected over them time and time again and have frequently less opportunities to pursue their dream career or advance in their current career than men do.

The United Nations said that “Of the 1 billion young people – including 600 million adolescent girls – that will enter the workforce in the next decade, more than 90% of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector, where low or no pay and exploitation are common.”

They also stated that, of the quarter of young people who are currently not employed, in training or in education, most of them are female. It’s a sickening statistic that in 2018, women are still struggling to get the same opportunities as men.

Of course, there are a number of reasons for this; some women are expected to be caregivers and therefore can’t go to work or school because they’re looking after siblings, parents, their own children or other relatives. Some can’t get a job because they didn’t perform well at school. Some women are struggling with mental health problems, some have had their confidence knocked at school and don’t feel like they can achieve anything now. In developing countries, young girls are being married off from sickeningly young ages and expected just to be a wife. Their education isn’t supported, they’re raped multiple times a day, expected to carry babies before their bodies are even fully developed – and so education, and as a result, work, takes a back seat.

And there’s still people who sit there and proudly declare that they’re not a feminist.

We need days like International Day of the Girl to remind people exactly why feminism is so important. It’s not about hating men; it’s not about being more important than men. It’s about making sure that women – and girls – have the same opportunities provided to them as men and boys. That at school, girls don’t feel inadequate compared to their fellow boy students. That when trying to get a job, women don’t feel like they’re being treated as lesser than their male colleagues and competitors. And even if you've never experienced this kind of discrimination or struggle, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist and that therefore feminism is unnecessary - feminism goes beyond you, it's important worldwide for women.

Sometimes, yes, a man genuinely does deserve the job more than a woman. He has more qualifications, more experience, more achievements.

But that’s partially where the problem lies – he had more to offer. More that he had the chance to obtain that a large number of girls and young women do not.

Growing up, I’ve always been incredibly fierce, stubborn and independent. I have always gone after exactly what I wanted, with the full support of my parents behind me.

When I wanted to join judo, they were right behind me. I fought a couple of girls, but mostly I was fighting boys. As I got older – and heavier – I was fighting men, literally throwing them over my shoulder across the mat. When I moved up a group to match my age/weight, I was put in a group of men. I was the only girl, but did I let that stop me? No. I won trophies, I won 5 medals, I fought at the Bucks Youth Games representing this county. I was really good at what I did.

When I took up guitar – and then bass guitar too – my parents didn’t stop me. My dear old mum carried my two guitars to school every week (plus pushed a pushchair and sometimes had my sisters saxophone too!) and allowed me to join every band and group going. I performed at the Royal Albert Hall on numerous occasions, I performed at (and won!) the Music For Youth Festival with my school’s jazz band twice. I performed on TV for a kids programme about young children with musical talents. And when I was taking my guitar lessons, just me and one boy who’s Dad played guitar, I surpassed his grades and smashed my own with higher levels and went on to win my schools Music Trophy for my contribution to music at the school.

I aced swimming classes, I attempted ballet lessons and street dance classes, I was cast in school plays, I was in the local paper representing my school more times than I can count, I’ve won awards and certificates and trophies – I’ve been an obnoxious over-achiever my whole life and as a result have been able to build a very successful future for myself (so far, anyway!)

I was confident in myself, independent and strong, because I’d always been fortunate enough to have a support system around me that believed in me, and made me believe in myself. Whether I was throwing boys over my shoulder, beating their grades or just sassing them in the playground at school, growing up I’ve always made sure I was better than the boys – and no one, least of all a boy, was going to stop me from getting what I wanted and being the best.

This won’t be the same for every girl though, far from it. I’m privileged to have achieved this. My parents supported me and all my ambitions no matter what. Whether I wanted to be a singer, an author, a zoologist, a radio DJ, a photographer, a journalist… it doesn’t matter, they supported me in any way they could. They paid for classes, courses, offered encouragement and help. I was really lucky.

But not all girls are this lucky. Not everyone has supportive parents like mine, and not everyone has the motivation to get through school without supportive parents or family members. Not everyone is pushed to achieve, and not everyone has the same doors opened to them as a result of this. That’s what we need to be focusing on this International Day of the Girl, and every day going forward.

The UN have pledged to spend this October 11th – and every day for the next year – “bringing together partners and stakeholders to advocate for, draw attention and investments to, the most pressing needs and opportunities for girls to attain skills for employability”

We need to help girls and young women as much as we can. We need to help them see their own brilliance, their own strength. We need to encourage them and support them when they might not be getting that encouragement or strength from anywhere else. We need to be building them up, boosting their confidence and empowering them to the point where they feel comfortable going after the same opportunities boys and men do.

On this International Day of the Girl, let’s take a moment to think about how fortunate we might be, and think about those who might be less fortunate than us. Let’s also spend some time thinking about what we can do to help those in need. Could you donate to a charity, get involved with a local school to do some work with female students? Could you make up some care packages to send to girls in developing countries, give a sister, niece or even a daughter some advice?

Women are strong on their own, but we’re even stronger when we come together. Female empowerment is quite unbreakable and definitely a force to be reckoned with. In a world that’s so determined to break us down, let’s fight back and make sure we’re standing up to it instead!

We don’t just need to encourage girls to chase a future bigger and brighter than they could imagine – we need to pave the way for them too.

Love from,
Florence Grace

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