El Diario La Prensa columnist Dolores Prida joins the first-ever International Day of the Girl celebration and calls for a century of global indignation and action about the plight of female children around the globe. The piece was translated from Spanish.
Today, for the first time, the world is marking the International Day of the Girl Child. Approved by the United Nations last December, it proposes to recognize girls’ rights, the exceptional problems they confront around the world and urge governments and people about the importance of pursuing initiatives for the empowerment of girls.
Although we have had an International Women’s Day and an International Children’s Day for a long time, none of these recognize the unique challenges girls face as the most marginalized and discriminated group on the planet.
From now on, every Day of the Girl Child will have a specific theme. This year it’s Ending Child Marriage, chosen because “child marriage is a phenomenon that violates millions of girls’ rights, disrupts their education, jeopardizes their health, and denies them their childhood, limiting their opportunities and impacting all aspects of a girl’s life.”
Let’s hope that from now on, this day becomes a century of indignation and action that can change the reality and shame we all ignore: Girls constitute 70 percent of the 130 million children not attending school; two-thirds of the 960 million illiterates worldwide are women; about 900 million girls and women survive with less than a dollar a day.
In some cultures, women abort their unborn female children on purpose. In others, girls are subject to female genital mutilation. In others they’re forced to hide behind veils. In others they’re forbidden to learn how to read and write, and those who dare to go to school are subject to physical attacks, possible death or facial disfiguration. In other societies, girls are forced to marry as young as 12 years old.
It’s no surprise that most of the societies where women are so victimized are backward in many levels. It is impossible to keep half of the population enslaved and abused and not face cultural and economic stagnation. Worst yet, there will not be peace until women can participate as equals in the political life of their countries.
But even in developed countries like the United States, where women have all kinds of opportunities, girls and adolescents still are victims of sexual harassment, rape, and hypersexualized consumerism that leads to high rates of teen pregnancy, such as we see in our Latino community.
We women should be born with a warning label. “Being a woman is dangerous to your health.”
Changes begin at home. Mothers and fathers (if they’re present at all) should teach their girls to respect themselves and to instill in them that they, too, can be president or astronauts or Olympic swimmers.
We could start with something really simple, like words. Parents should refrain from exclaiming, “Una chancleta (flip-flop)! whenever a baby daughter is born. A chancleta is the cheapest, most devalued of all footwear, the closest thing to the ground. That’s what my father said when I, his first daughter, was born. He said it again when his second daughter was born. And the third. He died waiting for a son.
I say, enough! Women are the majority of the population. Deal with it, world!