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For more than one day

What would the world look like if girls were equal to boys? This year’s International Day of the Girl provides a tantalising glimpse of the change we want to see, says Plan International CEO Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen CEO of Plan International.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International.

Imagine a world where girls and young women are seen and heard, occupying positions of influence within their communities and beyond.

Today (11 October), you won’t have to imagine: girls will be stepping into the shoes of political, social and economic leaders in a mass takeover that will make the invisible lives of girls – both their plight and their potential – truly visible.

There will be more than 160 takeovers in over 50 countries. From the President of Nepal to the Minister of Finance in Canada, leading figures will be stepping aside. In Guatemala and Uganda, girls will take over senior roles in major banks; in Guinea-Bissau, a young woman will co-host a national TV debate. In China and Thailand, girls will take over their teachers’ roles, and in Timor-Leste a girl will take over the role of Vice Minister of Education.

When girls see what is possible, they are more likely to be inspired for themselves and to become active agents of change. But the takeovers also provide an opportunity for those stepping aside to work with young women, to listen and to learn; to find out from them directly how they want to change their lives for the better.

Animation by Morgane Fraschina.

Because lives need to change. In every walk of life, in every corner of the world, girls face discrimination and injustice. Millions are denied their rights to a good education. They are unable to play an active and equal role in society. They are prevented from taking important decisions that affect their own lives, including decisions about sexual and reproductive health. And they are often at risk of violence, simply for being a girl.

Francoise and family

Plan International Japan have invited two girls from Rwanda to visit Japan for a week and engage in a number of takeovers including a women’s medical university and a high school. One of them is 15 year-old Françoise.

She says: “My mother dropped out of school after she discovered that she was pregnant with me; my father died soon after I was born. My mother couldn’t look after us and gave me away to be adopted by an old woman in the community who was wealthy and whose daughters were married and living in Kigali city.

“She took me into her home and gave me the opportunity to go school. However, she also made me do too much housework, which made me tired, but that didn’t stop my ambition to get an education and that is why I am always the best performing student at my school.”

Things can change. Last year, the UN agreed an ambitious set of Global Goals that include the promise of achieving gender equality by 2030. While the challenges in achieving those goals are vast, they are not insurmountable, if we act and act now. That will require a clear-sighted agenda for change, based on six key elements.

First, we need to get the legal framework right. Currently, there are few direct mentions of girls in key international human rights instruments and, until that changes, girls will remain invisible. But we also need to build a movement to bolster those rights, and to drive change more widely.

A strong, grassroots movement for girls’ rights has emerged in recent years. We need now to strengthen and sustain that movement, building solidarity with the girls and young women already at the front lines demanding their rights. Our global ‘takeover’ is just one way in which we plan to grow that movement.

Third, while the UN’s Global Goals represent an impressive statement of intent, they are just words unless governments act on the commitments they have made. We need to be ready to help countries deliver, but also to challenge them when they do not.

Animation by Leah Shore.

If we are going to hold governments to account, we need better data and we need to use it more effectively: girls are ‘invisible’ to policy-makers because they are not being counted. But better data is also vital to making the right kind of decisions and investments that can transform girls’ lives.

Transformative change also requires new ways of working. We need to involve everyone, and the private sector has just as much of a role to play here as NGOs. Only by finding new ways of collaborating will we be able to find new solutions to complex problems.

Loveness

For International Day of the Girl, Plan International UN Office in Geneva will be hosting a discussion panel on the situation of girls’ rights as well as facilitating the takeover by girls of five key leadership positions. Loveness, 17, from Zambia will be taking over one of them.

She says: “It is very important for me to advocate for girls’ rights in Geneva because I want girls to take part in the decision process at all levels of governance and to speak for the voiceless on issues that affect girls, especially in rural communities where I come from.”

Finally, we need to get the resourcing right. Just meeting the worldwide need for pregnancy-related care will require $28bn annually, a 100 per cent increase from current funding. We’ll need to be smarter about using all of the resources that are available, including working with the private sector.

If we are serious about reaching the Global Goals, we need to get serious about making change happen. The six changes are a map; our girls’ takeover is the compass, setting the direction in which we need to travel.

Today, girls will step into some of the biggest shoes around, from presidents to business leaders to head teachers and journalists. It is a powerful glimpse of the world we want to see. Our challenge is to make a future in which every girl has the chance to take over, and for more than just one day.

@PlanGlobal

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Written by Standard Issue