Today is International Day of the Girl. This year, the day’s theme is: “EmPOWER girls: Before, during and after conflict.”

According to UNESCO, humanitarian crises hurt women and girls the most. They comprise more than three-quarters of the refugees and “dispaced persons at risk” from war, famine, persecution and natural disaster. They are then more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation on their way to and in refugee camps. They are also vulnerable in their countries of origin.

“Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence. In humanitarian emergencies, gender-based violence often increases, subjecting girls to sexual and physical violence, child marriage, exploitation and trafficking. Adolescent girls in conflict zones are 90 per cent more likely to be out of school when compared to girls in conflict-free countries, compromising their future prospects for work and financial independence as adults,” the UN said.

Girls are getting left behind when it comes to education. Nine out of the ten toughest countries for a girl to get an education are in Africa. According to a newONE Campaign report, “girls are 57 percent more likely than boys to be out of school at the primary level, and the disparity only gets worse as girls get older” — rising to 83 percent at the upper secondary level. Malala Yousafzai, who started at Oxford this week, noted, “In many countries, they do not even keep track of how girls are doing in school, or if they are there at all. If we say, ‘Girls count,’ then we must count girls, so we can see if we are really making progress in educating every girl.”

A new study by “Save the Children” released yesterday shows gender bias begins early. By the fourth grade, nearly 40 percent of boys in the United States believe that boys are smarter than girls. In Sierra Leone, that number is 70 percent. Girls are still marginalized by their families and communities, face discrimination, lack opportunities, earn less money and often do not control what they do earn.

Education, specifically educating girls, is one of the smartest investments a country can make, but money is not the only factor. Cultural factors devaluing women play a significant role. Women (and girls) are still considered commodities in many places in the world. A girl under age 15 is married off every 7 seconds, somewhere in the world. Some of those young brides pay for those marriages with their lives: complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second-leading cause of death for 15-19 year old girls world wide. However, being able to attend and stay in school decreases those odds. Sometimes, a relatively simple solutions pays big dividends. As “Days for Girls” has shown, just providing sanitary supplies for menstruation — something we all too often take for granted in the United States — can keep girls in school.

Shelley Zalis, who has a company that works to advance women’s standing in the corporate workplace, writes: “Equality is not a female issue, its a social and economic imperative. In fact, $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 if we reach full gender equality, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.”

In her most recent op-ed for Forbes, Zalis suggests three ways to participate in this year’s “Day of the Girl”:

  1. Snap a selfie everywhere you believe girls belong
  2. Share it on social media with the hashtag #GirlBelongHere
  3. Tag the women and girls who inspire you

Additional hashtags being used this year are #FreedomForGirls, #StartTheConvo, #IDG and #DayoftheGirl.

In a book titled “200 Women Who Will Change the Way You See the World,” hitting store shelves on Oct. 31, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has this to say on what she would change if she could: “I would have society buy into the notion that daughters are to be cherished as much as sons. I don’t want daughters to be held back by artificial barriers, rather, they should be given the opportunity to grow, aspire and achieve according to whatever talents they have. That is my dream for the world.” That’s a dream we can all get behind.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is the mom to many girls and loves to cheer them on as they succeed in school and life. She also loves to advocate for women locally, nationally and internationally.