Each year on October 11, Plan International Australia joins millions around the world to celebrate International Day of the Girl. But this year – 2019 – is a bit different. It has truly been the year of the girl.
We’ve seen girls and young women everywhere rising up and taking charge. Greta has sailed across the open sea in a solar-powered yacht to demand world leaders take urgent action on climate change. Malala is touring the world with messages of hope and resilience to show girls everywhere that they can make a difference and that an educated girl is an incredible force.
This year has been extraordinary for girls rights, but it has also been devastating, frightening and overwhelming.
As our newsfeeds are flooded with astonishing photographs of huskies pulling sleds through melted ice in Greenland, starving polar bearsscavenging in Russia’s city streets and the mighty Amazon burning, it’s become undeniable that we are already living in a new climate reality. One that, for our children, will only become more omnipresent as they get older.
And girls are feeling it profoundly. We surveyed 1460 Australian girls for new research we’ve launched today. They have told us loud and clear that they see climate change as the most urgent threat to society and to their own future. As one girl in our survey put it: “If we don’t fix the earth, then the progress we’ve made would all be for nothing.”
For this generation, climate change is as the nuclear fallout threat was to my generation growing up. It’s ever-present and existential, but it’s more complex. The solutions exist, they are just in embryonic form.
We know that globally, girls in the developing world will bear the brunt of climate change. It’s also true that educating a girl is one of the best things you can do for the climate. An education means a girl can take charge of her future and exercise her reproductive rights. She will have fewer children and be better equipped to become a leader in her community. So we must continue to fund and advocate for free, accessible and appropriate education for girls everywhere.
Education means girls are free to fight for their human rights. For every Greta and every Malala, there are hundreds of girl activists in the developing world doing extraordinary work every day to combat child marriage, child trafficking, teen pregnancy, harassment and violence. We see these girls. We support them.
Girls and young women in Australia, too, are overwhelmingly eager to lead. In fact, 91% of girls and young women we surveyed expressed a strong desire to become leaders to tackle the biggest challenges of our time.
When it comes to role-models, they are not impressed by impressed by wealth or fame. They look to Jacinda Ardern and Serena Williams, to Malala Yousafzai, Julia Gillard and Michelle Obama. All women whose strength is drawn from an innate empathy and kindness. They admire women and girls who are fearless and powerful, but who do not covet that power for itself. Rather, it is power for change and power for others.
In their own lives, girls seek support from their families. They are buoyed by their mothers, fathers and siblings and their friends are vitally important too. They want to lead, but sometimes don’t feel confident to take charge. Their family play a vital role in empowering and supporting girls to succeed. This is true in Australia but we also see this in every country where Plan International works: the support girls get from their families, is crucial to their confidence.
It’s an exciting time to be a girl. This generation of girls (and boys too) are clever. They are socially-minded. They are strong and unapologetic. They are rising up and taking charge. They are wise beyond their years and they understand this fundamental truth: action is the antidote for despair. We must stand with these young people who are refusing to be consumed by hopelessness as they send a powerful message to our political leaders that apathy and inaction will not be tolerated.
This International Day of the Girl I stand with girls. And you should too.
Plan International Australia is today launching its Give Equal for Girls campaign, to support girls in the developing world with education, sanitation and security, so they can realise their human rights – via www.giveequal.org