By: Joanna Hoffman, Women Deliver
This Thursday, we celebrate the first ever International Day of the Girl, a global call to action to advocate for girls’ rights. In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly voted to establish this day to raise awareness on the issues girls face every day, promote girls’ rights, and highlight gender inequality. Girls Not Brides and its members in more than 30 countries are marking this day with action. There are many ways to help, from sharing the Girls Not Brides Facebook page to signing a petition asking the UN to ensure that every girl has access to education.
This access is crucial in promoting healthy girls, families, and communities. One of Girls Not Brides’ partners, Educate Girls, has worked since 2005 to improve Indian girls’ academic enrollment, retention, and performance. So far, they have improved the lives of over 37,000 girls and aim to help 4 million by 2016.
Educate Girls works to transform school systems in India by engaging girl leaders, their communities, and the government. Through a partnership in 2007 with the Rajasthan Education Initiative, Educate Girls began reaching out to what has now totaled 37,000 girls in more than 200 villages and 500 schools in the Pali District of Rajasthan. This area was chosen due to alarming gender disparities in schools. In 2001, the female literacy rate for the District was 44%, as compared to 76% for males. There are 10% more boys than girls at the primary school level, and 35% more boys than girls at the upper primary school level. Unfortunately, these gender gaps are prevalent throughout India—it is estimated that girls average less than four years of education in a lifetime and 40% leave school before they reach the 5th grade.
Whether or not a girl is educated has a domino effect on her life. She may be forced to drop out and become one of 10 million child brides, deprived of the education and economic opportunities needed to lift herself out of poverty. If she is educated, then every year of schooling delays her marriage and reduces the number of children she will have. She will also be less likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth, and the under-5 mortality rate for her children will be halved.
Recognizing this great potential to make a real difference in girls’ lives, Educate Girls has adopted a threefold strategy: engaging parents and community leaders to increase girls’ school attendance; reforming school curriculums to focus on creative learning approaches; and creating political constituencies to continuously support and monitor these reforms. As a result, 3,560 girls who had previously dropped out of school have now enrolled or re-enrolled. As of 2012, almost 1186 teachers in the Pali and Jalore districts are now trained in creative learning techniques. In December 2011, Educate Girls launched a new group of youth educators, Team Balika, who champion girls’ education through peer-based outreach.
This tremendous effort by Educate Girls to improve girls’ access to quality education not only benefits the girls themselves, but also all of us. As we enter the beginning stages of designing a new development framework, it is important to keep in mind that the young girls of today will be the mothers, educators, doctors, civil society advocates, and government leaders of the future. On International Day of the Girl, and every day, let’s work to ensure that the needs and perspectives of girls are a top priority.
Click here for more information on the Day of the Girl, and for tips on writing a proclamation to increase public attention to issues facing girls today.