Friday, October 12, 2012

Gender Issues: First International Day of the Girl Child - 'And we call ourselves civilised?'

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey


First International Day of the Girl Child

October 11 celebrates the First International Day of the Girl Child, a day to remember the human rights of every girl child born and to promote the empowerment of women, aiming for equal opportunities in a world where equality among citizens is a birthright, in a world free from gender violence and discrimination.

A girl is a powerful agent of change for a better and equal world, but her potential is constantly undermined by violence and discrimination. At UN Women, we believe in investing in girls, and we are joining other UN agencies to focus on child marriage on the International Day of the Girl Child. (UN Women)

UN Women promotes several initiatives to this end, raising awareness about issues of equal rights and fighting gender violence through the campaign Say No to Violence. Almost five and a half million actions have been started under this initiative to combat gender violence in a world where between 15 and 66 per cent of women may face abuse of some kind in their lifetime, depending on where they are born. No continent is exempt.

Child marriage is another target for activists around the world: over one third of women aged 20-24 years of age have been married before reaching the age of eighteen. For UN Women, "Child marriage is a fundamental human rights violation and impacts all aspects of a girl's life. It denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk of violence and compromises her health."

In fact if we look at the world around us, violence against women has reached pandemic proportions and it is the duty of everyone, including and especially men, to put a stop to it. Up to 70% of women experience violence in their lifetimes at the hands of men. More women aged 15-44 die from domestic violence than from cancer, malaria and road accidents combined; in South Africa, one woman is murdered every six hours; in the USA, one third of women killed are murdered by intimate partners.

640,000 women and girls are victims of trafficking every year; 100 to 140 million women and girls have been subjected to female genital mutilation; 3 million girls every year in Africa are still subjected to this; 60 million girls are forced to be child brides every year; one quarter of women and girls suffer violence during pregnancy; over half of women abused are kicked or punched in the abdomen. In São Paulo, Brazil, there is an assault on a woman every 15 seconds. In the European Union, 40 to 50 per cent of women experience sexual harassment.

And we call ourselves civilised?