Girl Power – International Day of the Girl Child


Last Thursday, October 11th, 2012, was the first UN International Day of the Girl Child.  Nowadays most people agree that one of the keys to the well-being and prosperity of the planet lies in the education, protection and enfranchisement of girls and women.  Unfortunately, most people doesn’t include the parents of millions of girls who are forcibly married off every day.  Or the government of Iran who have recently banned women from 77 university courses.  Or the Taliban in Pakistan who shot 14 year old Malala Yousufzai in the head last Tuesday, October 9th, because she had spoken out in favour of the education of girls and said –

“I have rights.  I have the right of education.  I have the right to play.  I have the right to sing.  I have the right to talk.  I have the right to go to market.  I have the right to speak up.”

Fortunately, more and more girls themselves are beginning to object and because many of these marriages are arranged out of love and concern for the child and a fear of stepping outside tradition rather than any cruel motive, more and more parents are also listening to their daughters.

If you have time today perhaps you’d like to read what Desmond Tutu and Ela Bhatt said about this last Thursday – Today, A Promise to Girls.

Or maybe you’d like to watch this short video about one girl’s stand against marriage – and her family’s surprising reaction –

Or maybe you’d have time to see what Mary Robinson and others have to say about child brides –

If you have a minute you might go onto the Amnesty USA page to send a message of protest about the shooting of Malala Yousafzai.

Even if you haven’t got time to do any of those things maybe you’d just think about the problem of girl brides and talk to others about it so that gradually we can all become aware and support those little girls when they say ‘no’.

Gender Neutrality


In 1993, the constitution of India was amended to stipulate that one third of positions as village chief were to be reserved for women. These positions were randomly allocated. The results were not always as positive as one might hope – often even the women complained about the female leaders.  However, there was one very significant outcome – follow-up research suggests that once a village has had one female leader the bias against female chiefs disappears and their candidacy and actions are judged by gender neutral standards. (1)

The same would seem to be true in Ireland – having had two consecutive female presidents – both of whom did a marvellous job – the electorate has moved into a very gender neutral place and we now have a male president. The expectation is that he will bring to the job many of the same characteristics of care, community development, human rights protection etc., that Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese made the trademark of their presidencies.  Michael D. Higgins was elected because he is who he is – nothing to do with his gender – and this is due at least in part to us being used to female presidents in Ireland.

If gender neutrality is achieved in political and public life by simply adding women (properly) to the mix – what other emergent advantages might equality – gender and racial and social – bring to all our societies?

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Photograph – 11th November 2011 – Inauguration of President Michael D Higgins at Dublin Castle. (The former Presidents Robinson and McAleese, are dressed in red)

(1) Nick Kristoff and Sheryl Woo Dunn, Half the Sky pp 217-18