Today, we celebrate the fifth International Day of the Girl Child. Established in 2011, the day recognizes girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face around the world.
Zonta International recognizes that the world’s 1.1 billion girls are part of a large and vibrant global generation poised to take on the future, and has long been committed to protecting girls and empowering them to realize a better future. In addition to our Amelia Earhart Fellowship, Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship and Young Women in Public Affairs Award, we work with United Nations organizations to empower women and girls in developing countries through our international service projects.
In Madagascar, where 90 percent of the population lives on less than US$2 a day, children are particularly vulnerable. More than a quarter of Madagascar’s children are excluded from formal education, and one out of three girls will become pregnant before the age of 18. Zonta has committed US$1 million over the next two years to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to create opportunities for vulnerable and excluded girls to realize their rights to an education in a secure and protective environment.
Early marriage is a form of sexual and gender-based violence with detrimental physical, social and economic effects. Niger has the highest child marriage rate in the world with 77 percent of girls married by age 18 and 30 percent married by age 15. Forty-two percent of adolescent girls give birth before the age of 17. A high proportion of school-aged girls are not in school and 73 percent of adolescent girls, ages 15-19, cannot read or write. With Zonta’s support of US$1 million over the next two years, UNFPA will work to reduce early marriage and early pregnancy in a critical mass of communities. As a result, adolescent girls in Niger will develop health, social and economic assets; know their rights and be in a stronger position to defend them; be safer and have a measure of protection against violence.
As the United Nations points out, the ambition for gender equality in the Sustainable Development Goals highlights the great number of disadvantages and discrimination borne by girls around the world on a daily basis.
“Only through explicit focus on collecting and analyzing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data, and using these data to inform key policy and program decisions, can we adequately measure and understand the opportunities and challenges girls face, and identify and track progress towards solutions to their most pressing problems,” the UN explains.
“When we invest in girls’ health, safety, education and rights—in times of peace and crisis—we empower them to reach for their dreams and build better lives for themselves and their communities.”
Zonta International is committed to investing in girls’ futures, and supports the UN’s goal to “make real progress towards greater accountability in domains of critical importance to [girls].”
Photo: U.S. Fund for UNICEF