Saturday, April 23, 2011

Because I am a Girl

It's ANZAC day here in Australia. I do tear up a little thinking of the boys and young men who volunteered to fight without really knowing what they had gotten themselves into, or of those who were conscripted and had no say in the matter at all. It's worthwhile to have a day to reflect on the horrors of war and on the impact it has made on each individual who chose to participate or who were forced to take part. I always find the day to provide the perfect answer to why we should avoid armed conflict, rather than finding that it glorifies the concept of war, though I know the ANZAC mythology has been misused at times.

Plan International has been running a major international campaign, "Because I am Girl", for several years now and they're currently lobbying the United Nations to make 22 September International Day of the Girl. While women have aided in armed conflicts as nurses and combatants, ANZAC day is largely about men's involvement in war. International Women's Day is cause for us to reflect on what women have achieved in fighting for equal rights to vote and to work, and on the continued struggle for broader equality. A day to reflect on what it means to grow up as a girl in the developing world seems like a real priority at this moment. The struggle for girls' and women's welfare is more urgent in the developing countries where they are more likely to be malnourished, uneducated, afflicted with HIV, married young or sexually exploited.

The 2010 Plan report on the state of the world's girls reminds us that the problem is not only confined to rural communities. Cities are also inhospitable places to girls and the cities of the developing world see five million more people added to them each month. While this rapid growth means the threat of violence in the street and slums increases, it also holds out some hope for improvement as city girls are more likely to attend school, have better access to health care, and to be able to enjoy their girlhood for a longer period without being married before they have had the chance to mature.

Astonishly, during the 2010 Street Child World Cup girls who had lived in shelters and on the streets in the UK, Tanzania, South Africa, the Philippines, Brazil and Nicaragua developed their own manifesto to lobby those in power. All seem like reasonable demands that we should feel more global responsibility to ensure:

"We the street girls have the following rights and we want them respected:
The Right to live in a shelter and home
The Right to have a family
The Right to be safe
The Right to be protected from sexual abuse
The Right to go to school and get free education
The Right to good health and access to free health services
The Right to be heard
The Right to belong
The Right to be treated with respect and decency
The Right to be treated as equal to boys
The Right to be allowed to grow normally."

So many girls have seen and endured things that rival the sufferings of soldiers in combat. Why don't we remember them too?

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