Every day is Day of the Girl

Lina AbiRafeh
7 min readOct 11, 2022

Let’s get right to the heart of this: the global reality for girls is pretty bleak.

Today, 129 million girls do not have access to education. Lack of access to education doesn’t just limit a girl’s opportunities in life, it is directly linked to her survival. There are approximately 31 million girls around the world not enrolled in primary school. And women and girls are over two-thirds of individuals impacted by illiteracy.

These are some grim statistics, surely. But — there’s more.

60% of chronically hungry and impoverished individuals are women and girls. Girls’ health is precarious. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15–19 year-old girls globally. Why are 15 year-olds even having babies?!

Well, every year, about 12 million young girls become child brides — 28 girls every minute. Globally, 1 in 5 young girls are married. Roughly 40% of child-brides are married before turning 18 and 12% are married before age 15.

Violence against girls is widespread. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 4 girls will experience sexual violence before they turn 18. And this likely underrepresents reality.

In times of emergency or insecurity, girls face disproportionate risk. It comes as no surprise, then, that COVID has made everything so much worse.

Thanks to the pandemic, over 11 million girls will not return to school. The pandemic has also resulted in millions of additional cases of girl-child marriage and millions of additional cases of female genital mutilation.

This is bleak! Now what?!

Today is the 10-year anniversary of International Day of the Girl, a day where we champion the power of girls and amplify their potential.

Wait — shouldn’t we do that every day!?

And — what’s to celebrate, given these statistics? Well, we also need to use this day to redouble our efforts to support girls, so we don’t have bleak statistics anymore.

The reality is that discrimination, violence, strict gender norms, lack of access to basic rights and opportunities, and exposure to harmful practices mean girls (and women) are society’s most vulnerable. In fact, some experts think that teenage girls are the most vulnerable group on earth. This is exactly why we need International Day of the Girl.

But it’s not just about other girls, over there. It is about our very own girls, right here. Girls in our own lives. Girls whose futures should be better and stronger than ours.

I thought it best to go to the authority on this — my 8-year old niece. I previously interviewed her about everything feminism so who better to go back to and see if anything has changed…

Is there a difference between boys and girls?

Yes… YES!

How are they different?

We have different personalities. Like, it’s not always like this, but mostly boys use their expressions with their hands, and girls like to talk it out when they have fights.

Which way is better?

It depends on the problem. Usually it’s probably talking, if that’s not yelling. Cuz otherwise, if you’re punching or using your hands, that’s not allowed anywhere.

Do you like being a girl?

I always wanted to be a girl! I would always definitely be a girl. Boys are annoying. I like everything about being a girl.

What do you think it will mean to be a girl when you’re older?

To be independent, a strong and hard working woman.

Is there something now that’s hard about being a girl?

No. or only when they get into fights. Girls get into fights about really silly stuff. And boys get into arguments about who’s not playing football. But also both genders can do sports, sometimes. Like, it’s perfectly fine for boys to love other colors and pink. And my friend Sienna, she’s a girl and she plays basketball. And she’s better than the boys.

What is gender, anyway?

There’s a lot of genders actually. It’s your personality — it’s boy, girl, they, them. So I read a book about genders. And that book, one girl’s mom thought that one was a boy, so she had to wear boy clothes every day, but her personality was a girl. So she liked to be called a girl. Well, actually, I could even be a boy.

Do you feel like a boy?

No, cuz for gender you gotta feel it from the inside. Many of my teachers are they/them. And I think it’s perfectly fine. And sex is penis, vagina, and stuff.

Do you talk about touching?

At home we did. Like a hug is ok but if you like pushing each other and pulling each other and punching each other then no, it’s not fine. Touching your own parts are fine, that’s your own body.

What about if someone touches you without asking?

If you don’t want that person to touch you, you got to tell him. You got to tell them and they got to listen. If they don’t, just walk away. Or get to any adult in sight. I say “can you please stop.” And they stop. But lots of boys don’t listen. The boys don’t care about any girls.

Why do they not listen?

I really don’t know. Just because they’re very busy in their mind on football or soccer and winning games. They don’t like girls and they don’t like listening. And they don’t like school. And they don’t like teachers. So basically all they like is each other. But they don’t even care about each other really.

My niece is pretty clued in to all this stuff so I spoke to her mom, my sister, to get a sense of how my niece learned it all.

A lot is informed from her own experiences. My sister reflected that she first started to notice the real difference between boys and girls when it came to freedom and privilege. “They had it, we didn’t”, she said. She even wished for an older brother who would allow her some room to breathe because, she said, “he would not have had the restrictions that we did growing up. He would have been free — and he would have taken that freedom for granted”.

She explained that “there’s a moment as girls when we realize that the world doesn’t see us as equal…” but she hoped that “today’s girls don’t have that moment!”

I asked other parents about raising young girls. One father of three daughters had this to say:

After we had our third daughter, I remember people used to ask me if I was disappointed to not have a boy. Absolutely not! That’s such antiquated thinking. That question clearly implies that there’s something inherently bad about having only daughters.

He went on to explain:

I would always reply that “daughters are easier”, which I found to be true. We did our best to raise them to be independent and told them they could be anything they wanted to be. We weren’t overly worried, but we did keep a closer watch over them than if they were boys. We raised them to be vigilant about being safe and saying no.

From those I asked, parents of girls tend to worry more about things that parents of boys don’t seem to have to think about. This is where parents of boys need to step up, said the mother of a young daughter, “so I can do less, worry less.”

She put it like this:

Eradicate the statement of “boys will be boys.” There needs to be more dialogue with boys on what’s okay and what is not. Even simply just being rowdy in the classroom (not even the most serious of boy problems). But that alone is excused just because they’re “boys” or they have energy that they “need” to expend blah blah blah. But even when they’re acting out, negative attention is still attention, so that boy who’s always disrupting the class — even if it’s non hugely violent or aggressive — he still takes up so much damn space and energy. And denies girls space in doing so.

One mother noted that she felt the global understanding of International Day of the Girl was missing at her child’s school. “I’m not even sure International Day of the Girl is acknowledged — how would an elementary school do that?”, she asked.

Some organizations out there are doing amazing work. There’s a list below to check out, amplify, support. Girls show us time and again just how skillful, resourceful, creative, and determined they are in effecting change. They are the drivers of progress. Girls can change the world. They are the future. And today, they’re just not taking any crap.

But at the same time, we’ve got to support them. We owe it to them to do better. The UN has a call to action that we can join. Plan International has a manifesto we can read and share. And in our daily lives, we can support the leadership of our own girls in schools and at home. We can help by amplifying and championing their ideas. We can invest in their education, serve as mentors and guides, exposing them to new fields and encouraging their pursuits. We can ensure that they have access to support and networks, girl-centered activities and services to ensure their access to opportunities and equality.

To go back to my wise young niece, who likes “everything about being a girl”. I have no doubt she will be independent and strong. We owe it to all girls to make that a reality.

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Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights expert, author, speaker, aid worker, feminist activist with 25 years of experience in 20 countries worldwide - and lots of stories!