Day of the girl: What about the boys?
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Today is the first ever International Day of the Girl Child.
You may not have heard too much about it, because there hasn't been a huge amount of media coverage. There's been much discussion about gender in politics over the last couple of days, but little on just why we need a global day of action in support of girls.
This week's dramatic events in Parliament have well and truly brought sexism and misogyny regarding women in power to the fore. We've been preoccupied (some in awe, some in disappointment) by Prime Minister Julia Gillard's 15-minute impassioned speech on the matter, and shocked by Peter Slipper's texts messages of "School boy crap", as Eva Cox put it to the AFR this morning. Online, women and men have continued their campaign against broadcaster Alan Jones – and seen some success with Macquarie Radio's decision to pull advertising from his show.
All this has contributed significantly to putting gender on the national agenda, but it shouldn't detract from the wider issue of gender inequality, particularly the plight of young women around the world.
Sadly, the publicity that has best raised the profile of Day of the Girl has been the shocking and cowardly attempted murder of a 14-year-old school girl in Pakistan on Tuesday. Malala Yousafzai, an activist on education for girls, was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban while on a school bus with friends. The schoolgirl was targeted for "promoting secularism" according to a Taliban spokesperson, and will be targeted again.
Such a barbaric act should be enough to explain why we need a day of action just for girls, and was highlighted by the Prime Minister while launching the inaugural Day of the Girl at a UN event in Canberra last night. But it doesn't quite explain why we don't also have a day of action for boys.
So why not?
The fact we still have a 17.5% gender pay gap in Australia is shocking, but it's nothing compared to the gender gaps that exist around the world. As Plan International's excellent Because I am a Girl campaign outlines, girls are three times more likely than boys to suffer malnutrition, more likely to be pressured into marriage (often to men much older), and less likely to get an education, with 75 million girls around the world not going to school.
Meanwhile, 20% of girls experience sexual abuse as children compared to 10% of boys, according to the World Health Organisation.
These facts are just a few examples of the enormous gulf that exists between girls and boys, or between men and women that the girls of today can expect to experience later on in life.
The key to breaking the cycle of poverty is education. For girls, education takes on an even deeper meaning given the World Bank finds an extra year of primary school will see a girl's wages boosted by 10 to 20%, while girls with an education in developing countries are more likely to marry later and have less children.
No wonder the Taliban were so concerned about the activism of a 14-year-old girl.
Next week is anti-poverty week and Women's Agenda will be supporting Good Return, an Ausaid accredited charity that provides microfinance loans to women in the Asia Pacific region.
Currently, Good Return is on a specific mission to fund financial education for 200 women in the Asia Pacific region, at a cost of $100 per woman to attend a financial literacy course.
How will this help girls?
By undertaking a financial literacy course women in developing regions have an opportunity to learn about financial management and debt. And when a woman has money, she's much more likely than men to spend it on her children. Women spend 90% of their income on family, compared to the 30 to 40% spent by men.
Sounds like financial literacy education for women could help boys too.
In the meantime, let's keep gender on the national agenda. If we can recognise that gender issues affect even the most powerful of women, we can appreciate just how significant the inequalities are that occur elsewhere.
Check out our Day of the Girl facts, figures and reading list.
Like 'Because I am a Girl' on Facebook.