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October 10, 2017

Girls Need More Than a Tweet

Fostering Community

What gets counted gets done.” That’s the thinking behind this year’s theme for International Day of the Girl Child, recognized on October 11th. The push to increase investment in “collecting and analyzing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data” is seen as essential if the barriers girls face in realizing their potential are to be identified and eradicated.

One particular barrier highlighted by UN Women, the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, is child, early and forced marriage. The statistics paint a bleak picture, showing that one in every three girls in developing countries (excluding China) is married before the age of 17. Girls living in poverty are 2.5 times more likely to enter into a child marriage than wealthy girls. And for any girl, child or early marriage typically means the end of their education and an early pregnancy. The chances that these girls can ever become socially and economically independent, or have control over their reproductive health diminish the moment they enter into marriage. It’s certainly easy to understand why this area is one that needs immediate redress.

I am sure that on Wednesday social media will light up with tweets and posts in support of girls’ rights around the world. Politicians and celebrities will use their powerful public platforms to promote equality, fairness and justice for girls. And then, it will be Thursday.

On Thursday, the President of the United States will continue to defend his “locker room” talk, countless Hollywood celebrities and late-night hosts will likely still avoid mention of Harvey Weinstein, and Cam Newton will still be a sexist quarterback (or just really bad at handing out compliments to female journalists, depending upon who you believe).

So where am I going with this? In no way am I minimizing the importance of drawing attention to the plight of girls around the world, and in particular, girls growing up in developing countries. Millions of girls face insurmountable barriers and suffer unimaginable hardship, simply because they are girls. But I do admit frustration at the hypocrisy of those who pay lip service to the fight against inequality (or any other social injustice, for that matter) yet perpetuate the very thing they so loudly protest.

Take, for example, State Street Corporation, the financial services firm that commissioned the Fearless Girl statue that boldly stares down the Wall Street bull. How is it possible that this firm, an organization that funded a powerful symbol of girl power, has just agreed to pay $5 million in settlement costs after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation revealed that the organization systematically paid female executives less than their male counterparts? Was the statue simply a recommendation by State Street’s public relations department? Was it part of its new aren’t we socially progressive” marketing strategy? I don’t know, but the hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

What I hope for on this International Day of the Girl Child is quiet reflection and a bit of soul searching on everyone’s part, but particularly by those who have the privilege of a platform. I hope that public figures, policy makers, politicians, professional athletes, entertainment figures, corporate executives, anyone who has the power to truly set the tone in the media, in organizations and in governments, thinks about the importance of identifying and eradicating every barrier to entry, every barrier to progress, and every barrier to financial independence impacting girls all around the world, including girls in Canada and the United States.

Girls’ rights quickly become women’s rights. Let’s work to simultaneously advocate for the rights of girls everywhere, while holding accountable our workplaces, governments, educational institutions, sports teams, and media organizations for their treatment of women. We can’t allow one hand to be raised for justice while the other sweeps transgressions under the carpet. Let’s expect more for our girls by expecting our leaders to truly walk the walk of equal rights for women.

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