Two days ago, Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl, was gunned down by members of Pakistan’s Taliban. Why, you might ask, was such an atrocious crime committed against such a young girl? Because Malala was standing up for what she believes: that girls deserve an education.
So today, October 11, we celebrate the first International Day of the Girl, to honor Malala (who is currently fighting for her life) and girls like her who want to change their circumstances and deserve a lot better than the opportunities they currently have.
Here are 6 startling statistics that should make you care about International Day of the Girl:
1. 1 in 5 girls in developing countries who enroll in primary school never finish.
2. Only 30% of the world’s girls are enrolled in secondary school.
3. 1 in 7 girls in developing countries is married before the age of 15.
4. By 2015, 64% of the world’s illiterate population will be female.
5. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year, many of whom are forced into prostitution.
6. 250 million adolescent girls currently live in poverty.
The above statistics are only a fraction of the statistics available on the conditions of women and girls around the world. And while progress is being made, and women and girls may be better off than they have been in the past, there is still a lot of work to be done. The focus moving forward should be on education.
Keeping girls in school longer has proven to increase the age of marriage and decrease the birth rate. According to USAID, “girls who stay in school for seven or more years, marry four years later and have two fewer children.” When girls marry later, the risk of complications related to pregnancy decreases. Pregnancy related complications are currently the leading cause of death for girls ages 15 to 19.
Additionally, educating girls directly correlates to increased female participation in the labor force, which in turn, allows for increased economic growth. Women are more likely to spend their additional income on their families, particularly on their children’s education and health, therefore providing for a strong future generation and allowing for sustainable development and growth.
It is widely recognized that girls are the key to progress in so many development goals, and girls’ education is a vital step in that mission. That is why the United Nations made October 11 the International Day of the Girl. The UN is asking governments, civil society organizations, and ordinary citizens not only raise to awareness but also to take action on such an important issue.
And especially today, we should remember that there are girls like Malala, who literally risk their lives every day in order to go to school, to seek an education, and to stand up so that other girls may do the same.
The documentary Girl Rising (trailer released today, feature to be released in Spring 2013) tells the stories of girls from around the globe fighting to overcome impossible odds to realize their dreams: