For thousands of years, male chauvinism has played the dominant or dictatorial role in world affairs. Even in most religions, males are given the primary role with most major religions not giving an equal place. This is seen even in families where the husband is considered the chief householder and often plays an authoritative or domineering role. Fortunately in recent decades women’s groups and human rights activists have been carrying out strong campaigns for gender equality and in the past few years the MeToo movement has virtually waged war against rich and powerful men who sexually harass or abuse women.
The plight of the Girl-Child has been worse. In Asian and other Third World countries a girl child’s birth has not brought as much happiness to most parents who are much more delighted when they get a baby boy. There are a multitude of reasons for this including the dowry system when the girl reaches the marriageable age. Philosophers like Rabindranath Tagore have lamented that in India marriage has virtually become “glorified prostitution” because women are sold in the market -- a two million Indian rupees dowry for an engineer or accountant, three for a lawyer and four million for a medical doctor. Even in Sri Lanka, the dowry system still prevails to a large extent despite the information and communication technology revolution, artificial intelligence and robotic marvels. Girls and women have shown that they are equally skilled as men in professions ranging from medicine and law to technology but the male domination continues.
Yesterday the United Nations marked the International Day of the Girl-Child with the theme being Girl Force: Unscripted and unstoppable. According to the UN, since 2012, October 11 has been marked as the International Day of the Girl. The day aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.
Nearly 25 years ago, some 30,000 women and men from nearly 200 countries gathered in China’s capital of Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women. They decided to recognise the rights of women and girls as human rights. The conference culminated in the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action; it was the most comprehensive policy agenda for the empowerment of women.
In the years following, women pressed this agenda forward, leading global movements on issues ranging from sexual and reproductive health rights to equal pay. More girls today are attending and completing school, fewer are getting married or becoming mothers while still children and more are gaining the skills they need to excel in the future world of work, the UN says.
Today, these movements have expanded. They are being organized by and for adolescent girls, and tackling issues like child marriage, education inequality, gender-based violence, climate change, self-esteem, and girls’ rights to enter places of worship or public spaces during menstruation. Girls are proving they are unscripted and unstoppable. In recent years two teenagers, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and Sweden’s Greta Thunberg have drawn international attention.
Malala is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. She is known for human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. On October 9, 2012, while on a bus in the Swat District, after taking an exam, Malala and two other girls were shot by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism. Malala was hit in the head with a bullet and remained unconscious and in critical condition at the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology, but her condition later improved enough for her to be transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Birmingham in Britain, where she now plays a major role.
Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is an environmental activist on climate change whose campaigning has gained international recognition. Greta first became known for her activism in August 2018 when at 15, she began spending her school days outside the Swedish parliament to call for stronger action on global warming by holding up a sign saying, “School strike for climate”. She later addressed the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland and the recent United Nations General Assembly Summit on Climate change.
She told world leaders to stop bluffing and to walk the talk because it is her children and children’s children who will suffer because of global warming and climate change. Greta was widely expected to win the Nobel Peace Prize but it was awarded yesterday to the Ethiopian Prime Minister.On a day like this let us remember that little girls with dreams, become women with vision.