Each October, the United States joins the international community to observe the International Day of the Girl, an opportunity to celebrate the gains we have made in advancing the status of girls globally, while also acknowledging the difficult work that remains ahead of us. This annual occasion recognizes how girlhood shapes the lives of women around the world, which is why supporting the education, health, and safety of girls is foundational to our foreign policy and development goals, driving U.S. investments to promote girls’ rights and empowerment in countries around the world.
A girl holds so much promise, but in too many places that promise is under threat and goes unrealized, with damaging repercussions for societies and economies. As President Trump noted in a statement released on International Day of the Girl, “Girlhood is a time when young women should be nurturing their skills, pursuing their passions, and building the foundations of their futures. For far too many girls, however, unreasonable limits and restrictions block their paths to achievement and self-fulfillment. In many countries, girls are seen as a burden or commodity. These mindsets prevent girls from fully participating politically, socially, and economically in their communities.”
To mark the Day of the Girl, my colleagues at the Department of State and across the U.S. government community affirmed the United States’ commitment to advancing the status and wellbeing of more than 1 billion girls growing up around the world. In a blog, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx outlined PEPFAR’s efforts to end the HIV pandemic through empowering, supporting and protecting girls.
Embassies around the world celebrated the day on social media and hosted events to highlight programs and policies aimed at addressing challenges faced by girls. In Islamabad, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale commemorated the day at an event featuring local organizations working to improve the lives of girls in Pakistan with support from the embassy. The U.S. Embassy in Manila celebrated with a video underscoring the importance of providing equal opportunities to girls all over the world.
USAID Administrator Mark Green released a video message in which he emphasized the role that girls play in our effort to end the need for foreign assistance. Administrator Green noted that “no country can succeed if it excludes the voices and talents of half its population,” and also introduced Michelle Bekkering, USAID’s new Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. USAID also used the video to launch the Girls Shine global conversation featuring stories of empowering girls who are changing the world. The #GirlsShine hashtag was picked up in 68 countries worldwide on social media.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation explained why empowering girls is central to their mission of reducing poverty through economic growth. The U.S. Department of Labor distributed an email and commemorated the day online by reminding stakeholders and partners of the important contributions each make towards improving girls’ lives globally by reducing the prevalence of the worst forms of child labor.
In remarks at the Together for Girls event in Washington, USAID Senior Coordinator Michelle Bekkering emphasized the agency’s commitment to empowering girls around the world, noting, “we want every girl to go to school, to live in a home and community free from violence, and receive the care that she needs to grow healthy and strong. We believe that a girl's future should not be determined by her sex and by the gender stereotypes that society puts on her. She should be defined by her access to opportunities and resources that she needs to succeed.” And this week, the Millennium Challenge Corporation hosted an event showcasing the impressive results from a girls’ education program funded under its compact with Burkina Faso.
While we’re pleased to highlight these efforts around Day of the Girl, our work to empower girls continues all year, because the status of women and girls has significant political, economic, and social implications for all of us. The girls of today will one day be the backbones of their nations as the mothers, doctors, teachers, police officers, and scientists of tomorrow. Their participation in the global economy will spur growth and prosperity, their engagement in peace processes will bring more lasting security, and their education will enable them to keep themselves and their families healthy and strong. Yet, for women around the world to achieve this potential, we must ensure that girls everywhere have the same rights and opportunities as boys. We acknowledge that the challenges facing girls globally are great, and much work remains to be done. We are resolute in our determination to keep fighting for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of girls today in order to realize the promise of tomorrow.
About the Author: Emily Kearney is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Global Women's Issues at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.