I discovered the Because I Am a Girl campaign in the early days of my work with Plan International.
The campaign resonated with me because, as the eldest of four girls, I grew up with people constantly saying to my parents, “you poor things’ or ‘are you going to keep trying for a boy?”
Luckily for me, I had parents that championed me and my sisters and schools where I was encouraged to learn and to lead. I grew up thinking I could do and be anything I wanted, and I continued to believe this even when I worked in many male-dominated environments.
When I worked in those environments, I always felt I had the right to be there even if I questioned why there were not more women there, and occasionally demanded change.
That doesn’t mean it was all plain sailing. Far from it. I was sexually harassed by my driving instructor and by a supervisor at my first job in a supermarket when I was 15 years old. I met my fair share of men that put me down.
I guess I should be grateful I live in Australia. Because I remember that in one of my first jobs at Plan International, I found a statistic that to this day still chills me: In South Sudan a girl is more likely to die in childbirth than complete secondary school.
Just think about that for a moment. Ask yourself, how in the world is this okay?
In some countries boys are so favoured over girls that infanticide is common. Boys are given more food than girls, and if times are tough boys are more likely to be educated than girls. Too many girls are married before they are old enough. Girls are trafficked, abused and subject to violence in numbers too large to make sense of.
In our own country, the recent VicHealth national survey of 1,923 people aged between 16 and 24 gives some idea about what might be going on at school for girls today. The survey found that one in five young people in Australia believe men should take control in relationships and a similar number thought that women often said “no” to sexual activity when they meant “yes”. A shocking 18 per cent agreed if a woman was raped while affected by alcohol or drugs she was in part responsible.
A recent bank survey found the gender pay gap starts in the home, with girls aged 12 and under getting 11.3 per cent less than boys. Did you even realise a gender pay gap in pocket money was possible?
These facts just outrage me. It is 2016, people! There is still so much to do to achieve genuine gender equality.
I have always believed that you have to be the change you want to see in the world, and that children don’t listen to what you say but they instead watch what you do. The challenge and the beauty of the Because I Am a Girl campaign is that it calls me – and all of us – to become the women we want our daughters to be, and the men that we want our daughters to know and to love.
Gender equality has to start with us and it cannot end until all girls, everywhere have the same chance at life.
Much of the work that needs to be done to achieve gender equality is addressed in the new Global Goals, which were adopted by 193 countries last week and which form a roadmap for all of us for the next 15 years.
The future for girls’ means even more to me now than ever before: in 2013, I had a little girl who will be a young woman in 15 years’ time. There’s much I wish for her by 2030:
I want her to be a mighty girl and I want her to feel loved and respected for who she is. I don’t want her to feel the need to look thin, instead I want her to be healthy, strong and valued for who she is.
I want her to love her body and decide what she wants to do with it and with whom, and that she knows the joy of great friendships with men and women.
I want her to feel safe and be able to walk where she wants, wear what she wants, be who she is.
I want her mind to be opened to learning with an education that gives her the tools to think and criticise and create, and that she will feel like she can do anything she puts her mind to.
I want her to never be limited by perceptions of women’s and men’s work, and that the gender pay gap is eradicated.
I want her to find a lover or partner that is prepared to share the work, joy and mess of child raising, housework and community involvement – and is a good dancer. I want her free from violence, controlling behaviour and abuse, and to learn how to be in genuinely respectful relationships.
I want her to grow up to be kind and feel part of a common humanity that treats all people with dignity, and for her to call it out when that isn’t the case.
I want her to live in a world where the potential of girls is unleashed and they are taking their rightful place as equals in sport, science, politics and music – and I want the whole world to see this as a bonus for everyone.
I want her to learn to surf her own waves, create her own band, make her own art and write the story of her life in any way she chooses.
And you know what? I wish this for all girls everywhere.
Susanne Legena is the CEO, Plan International Australia
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