Since 2012, the United Nations has marked October 11th as the International Day of the Girl to lift up the voices of girls around the world.
Girls like Malala Yousafzai, who—in 2012, at age 15—was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman because she advocated for girls’ education. Globally, more than two-thirds of illiterate people are women. Each additional year of primary schooling increases a woman’s future wages by 10-20 percent, giving her greater economic power and more control over her future.
“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
Girls like Sonita Alizadeh, an Afghani rap artist who convinced her parents not to sell her into marriage when she was 16 years old. Each year, 12 million girls worldwide are married before the age of 18. Early marriage often curtails educational opportunity and puts girls at greater risk of domestic violence. It also frequently leads to too-early childbearing, with potentially deadly results for mothers and children.
“There is a lot of suffering and injustice in the world, and there is also a great deal of hope. When you step forward and start speaking about what you see and what you want to change, you can begin living in that hope instead of despair.”
Girls like Bana Alabed, who—at 8 years old in 2016—tweeted about her family’s experience during the siege of the Syrian city of Aleppo and their subsequent escape as refugees to Turkey. Women are half the world’s refugees, yet their specific needs are frequently overlooked by programs intended to aid displaced persons.
“The world can do better and be kinder to refugees. We are innocent.”
Girls like Greta Thunberg,who at 16 is a leading voice in the fight against climate change. Women and girls, especially in the developing world, face increased risks from instability and shortages caused by climate change.
“I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to.”
Girls like Autumn Peltier, a 15-year-old Canadian indigenous activist fighting for clean water rights, particularly for indigenous populations. Millions of people die each year from diseases spread by dirty water and lack of sanitation. Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by the lack of access to clean water.
“We all have a right to this water as we need it. Not just rich people, all people. No one should have to worry if the water is clean or if they will run out of water.”
Young women advocates are at the forefront of the movement for a safer, saner, more equal world for themselves, and for all of us. The world must listen to them.