“More than 1 billion girls younger than 18 are poised to take on the future. Every day they are challenging stereotypes and breaking barriers. Girls are organizing and leading movements…”
– Antonio Guiteras, UN Secretary General
In 1995, representatives from nearly 200 countries gathered for the fourth World Conference on Women, Action for Equality Development and Peace. The series of conferences had been to give life to Article 8 of the United Nations Charter which recognised equality between men and women. The Conference, in Beijing, fast became a ground-breaking conference as it was the first time that injustices against women were expressed at such a global scale and the rights of the girl child specifically advocated for simultaneously. Three important documents were borne out of the conference – the Beijing Declaration, the Beijing Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women. The documents, amongst other things advocated for reproductive rights, the fight against child marriage and education for all. In 2012, the United Nations realised the need to keep the Beijing Conference’s fire burning and not let delegates’ efforts go to waste. In this spirit, the 11th of October was marked as the International Day of the Girl Child.
GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable
This year’s theme is “GirlForce Unscripted and Unstoppable.” It seeks to celebrate the resilience and the determination of the girl child in the 21st Century whilst highlighting that the need to empower more girls. It has been reported that there are now more girls attending and completing school than ever before. There are more girls rising and breaking the glass ceiling than before, yet the scales of equality are still far from being balanced. UN Women states that of the 739 million illiterate people in the world, two-thirds are women and that only 39% of rural girls attend school until secondary level whilst only 59% urban girls do the same. There is still much work to be done.
Statistics in Zimbabwe
According to Zimstat, 49% of women miss formal education at some point in their school career. UNICEF says that 1 in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa become school dropouts due to lack of access to sanitary wear after puberty. Overall, more men are formally employed than women. Up to 60% women in the work force are in agriculture where most of them neither own the land nor work in the most favourable conditions. According to Zimstat, there are more boys with registered birth certificates than there are girls. This shows that from the start the race to education, and to a good quality life and to equality is biased against the girl child.
Progressive decisions have been made by our courts to improve the lives of girls but common practices hamper such decisions. In 2016, the Constitutional Court in Mudzuru v The Minister of Justice banned child marriages but child marriages continue to be rife in Zimbabwe. Girls’ rights advocacy group Girls Not Brides claims 32% of girls under the age of 18 are still subject to child marriages in the country. This is only one of many instances where girls are disadvantaged. There are many more areas where the government is encouraged to bridge the gap between court decisions and what happens on the ground regarding the rights of girls.
Nearly every statistic generated out of Zimbabwe is unfavourable to the girl child and the time has come for this to change. Zimbabwean girls such as Tanya Muzinda (youngest motocross World Champion) and Maud Chifamba (youngest graduate at 18) have shown that they truly are unscripted and unstoppable. Therefore investing in the empowerment of girls should not be an option. As Hillary Clinton once said, “when women participate in the economy, everyone benefits.”
Around the world many girls are proving that they too are unstoppable and unscripted. In 2014, Malala Yousozfai became the first girl to address the United Nations General Assembly and in 2019, Greta Thurnburg of Switzerland followed suit. Yousozfai went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the advocacy of education of women and children in Pakistan and Thunberg became a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2019 for her awareness advocacy regarding the effects of climate change. These are only two girls amongst millions, imagine what the world can become if every girl child is afforded her rights.
With just over half of the world’s population being female, the importance of uplifting girls becomes obvious. As the various Bills before parliament are being discussed and decided, the legislators are charged to keep girls in mind. For as long as it can be remembered girl children have been seen as lesser children than their boy counterparts and have suffered more oppression and have always been on the wrong side of history. It is time to reflect on our actions and take progressive steps in protecting, nurturing and empowering girls. 24 years after the Beijing Conference and 24 years after the Covenant on the Rights of the Child we need to ask ourselves, “Have we done enough for the girl child and what more can we do?”