This International Day of the Girl, we decided to dust off a blog post from last year, detailing why this day is so important. For some, it seems to be the most offensive day of the year: International Day of the Girl
But this International Day of the Girl, the team at Plan International Australia were ready. We had a roster for monitoring our social media and emails, so no one person would have to be on the receiving end for too long. We gifted the team on the phones with chocolates to get them through. We had a tea station for when we needed a break and dug out promotional stress balls we’d collected over the years.
International Day of the Girl is the biggest public day of the year for Plan International. As a result, as well as the encouraging support we see for the incredible young women we work with globally, we receive a remarkable amount of hate and anger in amongst genuine questions. Nothing stirs the pot quite like the notion of equality for girls.
We have received comments and emails that ranged from threats of violence (threatening to hit any “b****” telling them what to do), to obscene images and language (we’ll leave those to your imagination), to pure anger and rage directed at women including the girls and young women who are putting themselves forward.
We can’t do much about the hate. But we know that for all that, there are countless men and women genuinely supporting of, or curious about our work. For those who have questions about the day and why Plan International supports it, we’re here and more than happy to answer your questions. Here are some of the most common:
What about high suicide rate of boys and men?
This is a huge problem. The statistics on male suicide are distressing and unacceptable and something that must be addressed.
We’re not threatened by statistics on male suicide. We’re saddened by them.
There are wonderful organisations working in this space. Movember dedicates an entire month to highlighting men’s mental and physical health, and good on them.
Our focus on girls comes from our experience all over the world showing that nowhere, are girls treated equally to boys. Where we as an organisation can add most value is addressing damaging stereotypes that impact all young people, including boys, here and overseas.
International Day of the Girl is one day, each year, where girls can highlight the unique issues that affect them. We hope they can be granted that.
Why not focus on girls overseas?
We do! Our primary work takes place overseas and working with the most marginalised girls in some of the most difficult environments is our number one priority. Our focus is on ensuring boys and girls can grow up without discrimination, even in the most difficult circumstances. We understand that there are different issues affecting girls all over the globe, but interestingly, the themes in our report that consider girls both here and overseas, are often quite common.
There’s a hint of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ that can creep into the dialogue when addressing this. What’s important to note is that we as a society can’t point fingers at others when it comes to gender equality without looking at our own attitudes as well. We all have room to improve.
Encouragingly, all over the world we’re working with incredible young men and women to advocate for change. We have young men speaking out to their families, friends and communities to help end Female Genital Mutilation in Egypt. We have boys in Uganda supporting their female schoolmates when they get their period, not ostracising them so they avoid going to school. These young men own their role in supporting positive change for girls.
Your report is on girls’ safety with a focus on cities - Why is this?
Today, cities are home to 54% of the world’s population, a figure expected to rise to 66% by the middle of this century. While urban environments provide more opportunities for women, they also put them at greater risk of sexual harassment and abuse.
Using data collected in five major cities around the world, our recent Unsafe in the City report sheds light on the relentless harassment and abuse experienced by women on a daily basis, an occurrence that has become so normalised over the years, that it’s women who have had to alter their behaviour to protect themselves, rather than prevention and action being targeted at the perpetrators.
There are lots of things that can be done to physically make our cities safer however, the only thing that has the power to create true change is awareness and education for both men and women, so that women are no longer the ones who have to change their behaviour, due to the behaviour of men. We’ve been working in international development for 80 years. Our experience shows us that if we can address the issues that hold girls back, everyone benefits.
Men face greater risks of violence in public spaces, so why are we focusing on girls?
Despite the fact that men and boys are more at risk in public spaces, it’s women who are changing their behaviour because they feel unsafe. They feel unsafe because harassment and abuse are a daily occurrence predominantly at the hands of men. This stops them from participating in society in the same way which makes existing inequalities even more prevalent.
Where is International Day of the Boy?
Currently there’s an International Men’s Day that sits on the 19th of November. There’s absolutely nothing stopping a group or individual to get organised and campaign for the UN to create an official day for boys, as our Canada office did for Day of the Girl in 2011.
We want to emphasise here that most men and boys care about equality and feel they have a role to play in helping girls get ahead. Our programs are designed to benefit boys and girls, while acknowledging the unique challenges they face that hold them back. We’re on the same side. We want all children to have the opportunity to learn, lead, decide, thrive and survive.
For us, International Day of the Girl is a wonderful celebration of the potential of girls. We have a bit of a laugh over some of the comments and we get inspired by the young people we work with. Our hope though is that one day we won’t have to worry about a barrage of anger and abuse. Maybe then we’ll know we don’t need it anymore. Until then, Happy International Day of the Girl.