The barriers need to be broken before girls across the world achieve their true potential.

Breaking down barriers for girls across the world …

All over the world today millions of people are celebrating the first International Day of the Girl Child. But many others will likely question why we need a day that focuses just on girls – don’t we already have an International Women’s Day, a strong feminist movement, and countless policies and programs designed to fight gender inequality?


The reality is that the world is only now starting to realise that tens of millions of girls face daily discrimination, poverty and violence, simply because they were born female.

One in three girls around the world is denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, discrimination and violence.

Girls have been explicitly mentioned in annual themes for International Women’s Day just three times in the past 100 years. The combination of their gender and age renders them almost invisible.

Girls are especially vulnerable due to their age and often complete lack of power or control over their lives. This means a different, and perhaps more urgent, response is required if we are to harness their potential to create a better life for themselves and their children, a more prosperous, peaceful community and a healthier workforce.

That’s why Plan International lobbied the UN to declare October 11 the International Day of the Girl Child.

Of course, girls and boys have the same entitlements to human rights, but they face different challenges in accessing them – girls are less likely to complete school, have less opportunity for meaningful work, are more likely to be living with HIV and AIDS, and are more likely to experience rape or other forms of sexual violence.

Each year, more than 10 million girls are forced to marry as children, which usually means an end to their education, and a life of ill-health and poverty.

Dealing with the specific needs and rights of girls is key to breaking cycles of poverty with benefits for everyone – boys and girls, men and women. For example, as a country’s primary school enrolment rate for girls increases, so does its gross domestic product per head.

In fact, education is one of the best ways to help girls to move from poverty to opportunity. An educated girl will be more likely to marry later in life and have fewer, healthier children, who will be three to 10 times more likely to survive.

For every extra year of high school, a girl’s future income increases by 15 to 25 per cent. With the opportunity to earn a living, she will pull herself out of poverty and bring her children along with her. She will invest what she earns in them – in their health, education and futures.

But one of the most pressing challenges facing girls is access to quality education. One in three girls around the world is denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, discrimination and violence. That’s 75 million girls out of school.

Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as enrolling more girls in school. What they learn, and the conditions they learn in, are crucial factors. In Australia, we often hear complaints of children leaving school unable to read or write properly. In schools around the world, millions of girls are learning that they are inferior, and that their main purpose in life is to have children. And for too many girls, school is a place where they suffer bullying, violence and even sexual abuse.

Girls and boys need an education that provides them the skills they need for life, including the confidence and capabilities they need to be active, equal citizens, and to have positive relationships with others. If we can achieve this, everyone benefits.

Plan’s newest State of the World’s Girls report, called Learning for Life, highlights the fact that adolescent girls are particularly at risk of missing out on their education. It shows that there has been great progress in increasing primary enrolment for girls, but when they reach adolescence, the pressure of poverty and expectations of their reproductive and domestic roles results in a significant increase in the numbers of girls dropping out of school.

The ”Because I am a Girl” campaign, being launched on this first International Day of the Girl Child, aims to break down the barriers to ensure that all girls, as well as boys, receive at least nine years of quality education.

As we approach the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, the world will be debating what should be included in the new road map for global development and sustainability.

There is no better place to start than making quality education for girls an urgent priority.

Ian Wishart is chief executive of Plan International Australia.

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