"Over the summer, I was picked to be part of an advisory team for the UN on their International Day of the Girl celebrations. Some of you may know about the International Day of the Girl on the 11th October every year. It’s a day intended to encourage global discussion of the issues young women face every single day. The number one cause of death to women is gender based violence. The number one cause of death amongst men is heart disease.
In countries across the world, simply being a girl puts a person at a disadvantage. Girls face greater risk of malnutrition, hunger, and disease compared to boys; many do not receive an education, and in some developing countries approximately one in seven girls will be forced into child marriages. You may be familiar with the story of Malala Yousafzai, a young woman so passionate about education in her birth country of Pakistan as to have blogged about it for the BBC. When, on the 9th October 2012, Malala was shot in the head and shoulder by members of the Taliban on a school bus, her school friends risked their lives to cover her body. Malala, now living in the UK, is a prominent activist for education rights and the rights of women and girls. But her friends back in the Swat Valley still have to board that bus every single day, still have to fear for their lives every single minute, as long as they continue to demand the right to an education they unquestionably deserve.
When I was asked to apply to work with the UN on the project I am about to relay to you, I was overjoyed. We are at an exciting time in our history, ladies and gentlemen. We are watching Beyoncé discuss feminism in interviews, we are seeing race and gender politics presented in television programmes with cult followings, like Girls or The Mindy Project, and we’re hearing Emma Watson address the world about the role we have to play in the strides we are taking towards equality. I have a feeling 2014’s International Day of the Girl could be very special.
So what is it exactly that this UN project entails? Well, firstly, on the tenth of October there will be an event at the UN headquarters showcasing pieces of writing from girls around the world on what it means to be a girl in their country. One of these pieces being performed by a young female drama group will be mine. Sadly, I can’t attend the event, but I’m happy to hear that girls and boys from across New York will be. But the project doesn’t end there.
Our mission is to create a book, an anthology of essays and poems from girls scattered all over the world on what it is to be a girl. On what friendship is, what love means, what unites our experiences and what difficulties we face. These difficulties will range from those problems we can only imagine – child marriage, being banned from receiving an education – to those more familiar to us – street harassment, being called bossy for using our voices - and yet none of these problems are less valid because they all contribute to and are part of this very real, very alive picture of sexism and misogyny. The aim is to have this book published by next year, so we are working to a rather tight deadline.
For that reason, I implore you to come speak to me. To send over any ideas or queries you may have about a piece you want to write or a poem you are composing. If you want to submit something, Facebook or email me and I will pass on your piece. Don’t worry about “not being a writer”. Don’t forgo the opportunity to be part of something amazing and to leave your mark on this movement simply because you’re too self-conscious. Each and every one of us has a story to tell, and a voice with which to express it.
If you are a boy – and therefore can’t submit to this project – your input is also valuable. With social media tools at your disposal, you can share news about this project, discuss it with your family, think about the discrimination you may not directly experience but are witness to every single day. Watch Emma Watson’s speech on YouTube. Be more aware of the way in which you interact with the women in your life.
The official theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl is “Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence”. I wonder, when you look back on your life, if you’ll truly feel proud to have fought against the physical, and mental harm that women and girls face throughout the course of their lives. I wonder if your name will be part of history. I wonder if you’ll be a Gloria Steinem or an Emmeline Pankhurst or a Chimamanda Adichie. Or I wonder if you’ll have sat back. Watched the world change. And realised you had done nothing to help."