International Day of the Girl, is a United Nations designated day, observed on 11th October, every year. This year, under the theme, “My voice, our equal future”, the world endeavours to seize the opportunity to reimagine a better future inspired by adolescent girls – energized and recognized, educated and empowered, counted and invested in. Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals listed by the UN, talks of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. Accelerating social change, investing in pathways for skilling and employment, eliminating discrimination against girls and eradicating physical and mental abuse are a few measures which are being worked upon relentlessly in order to achieve this goal.
Women and girls represent half of the population and therefore half of the potential too. There has been progress over the last decades: More girls are going to school, fewer girls are forced into early marriage, more women are serving in parliament and positions of leadership, and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality. Indeed it is noteworthy that since time immemorial, women, especially in India, have been regarded with the utmost respect and accorded prestige and I am glad that India has been blessed with women pioneers who have broken the shackles of gender stereotypes in every field. As a matter of fact, our Honorable P.M. Narendra Modi rekindled the fire to promote gender equality, when he said on the launch of the program, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (March 8, 2018) that, “Daughters are not a burden but the pride of the whole family. We realise the power of our daughters when we see a woman fighter pilot. The country feels proud whenever our daughters bag gold medals, or for that matter any medal, in the Olympics”.
Today, girls globally are leading the way. It is often said, ‘Educate and empower girls; because when you educate a girl, you educate an entire family, you educate an entire nation’! In all optimism, I prefer to remain hopeful for a brighter world tomorrow if such ideas are brought to a consequence sooner. However, I must admit my faith in such lofty ideas is shaken when reality dawns; inspite of providing girls with the freedom to be educated and empowered, the number of cases of abduction, sexual assaults and domestic violence do not seem to be reducing.
According to a report by The United Nations, discriminatory laws and social norms remain pervasive, women continue to be under-represented at all levels of political leadership, and 1 in 5 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 report experiencing physical or sexual violence. Furthermore, In 18 countries husbands can legally prevent their wives from working; in 39 countries, daughters and sons do not have equal inheritance rights; and 49 countries lack laws protecting women from domestic violence. Do these numbers spell gender equality and women empowerment? It is for each of us to realize that for a nation to progress, it is essential to respect women, it is essential to educate girls, it is essential to empower them. We have to understand that gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world we have to build back on the strong foundation of mutual respect.
Apparently, the coronavirus outbreak has only exacerbated the existing situation of women and girls across every sphere – from health and the economy, to security and social protection. However, there still remains the hope of recovery and growth for them. Interestingly, the effect of the pandemic could end up reversing the limited progress made on gender equality and the rights of girls. Supporting this view, the UN Secretary General amusingly said, “Limited gains in gender equality and women’s rights made over the decades are in danger of being rolled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic!”
Thus looking at the positive side, girls can be the backbone of recovery in communities if they are given the equality and education they so rightfully deserve. Putting women and girls at the centre of economies will fundamentally drive better and more sustainable development outcomes for all, support a more rapid recovery, and place the world back on a footing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Thus today, let us all pledge to work together for the educational empowerment of all our girls, thereby moving ahead towards a ‘better tomorrow’ swiftly.