In my Open Morning talk last weekend, I spoke about the responsibility of schools to prepare girls for a world that is increasingly complex and rapidly changing; I talked about the importance of developing skills beyond those required for academic qualifications. I was, however, reminded yesterday (on UN International Day of the Girl Child) that no matter the challenges that may face girls and women in the future, in comparison to many other girls around the world our students are significantly advantaged by being able to attend school at all.
Over the last 15 years, the global community has made significant progress in improving the lives of girls during early childhood. In 2015, girls in the first decade of life are more likely to enrol in primary school, receive key vaccinations, and are less likely to suffer from health and nutrition problems than were previous generations. However, there has been insufficient investment in addressing the challenges girls face when they enter the second decade of their lives. This includes obtaining quality secondary and higher education, avoiding child marriage, receiving information and services related to puberty and reproductive health, and protecting themselves against unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and gender-based violence. Of the one billion young people – including 600 million adolescent girls – that will enter the workforce in the next decade, more than 90% of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector, where low or no pay, abuse and exploitation are common.
The International Day of the Girl is used by the United Nations to rally people behind the cause of empowering girls worldwide so that they can have better education, better survival rates, better protection from child marriage and sexual assault and better health services. Under this year’s theme, ‘With Her: A Skilled Girl Force’, yesterday marked the beginning of a year-long effort to bring together partners and stakeholders to advocate for, and draw attention and investments to, the most pressing needs and opportunities for girls to attain skills for employability.
As a school we made a contribution to this agenda when last week we used our annual Book Week activities to raise funds for Afghan Connection – a charity working to support education for local communities in remote districts of Afghanistan where in some cases barely a single adult woman can read or write. I’m hugely grateful to the English Department for organising the week-long event. Our Book Auction and Dressing Up Day have raised £285 thus far. We would love to reach £300 and Mrs Ashdown will warmly welcome any further donations.
You could also get involved by raising awareness of the ‘With Her’ campaign, perhaps starting on the main site: www.unwomen.org. Also follow @un_women Twitter and Instagram, and use the hashtag #dayofthegirl to engage in discussion with the many organisations committed to supporting girls and women around the world.