On October 11, development organizations in Africa celebrated the International Day of the Girl. In 2012, the United Nations designated this day to observe the global status of young girls as it relates to their right to equality and socioeconomic opportunity. The main focus this year is “EmPOWER girls: emergency response and resilience planning.
In previous years, international agencies such as UNICEF and UNESCO have promoted efforts in Africa to ensure that girls are not unjustly pushed into early marriage and domestic servitude. As the situation stands, demographics in the Continent are exploding into a situation that presents too many young people with too few socioeconomic opportunities. Bearing a child at a very young age effectively diminishes young girls’ chances at forging careers. For the 2017 observance of the International Day of the Girl, protection and provision of opportunities for girls and young women in vulnerable situations, such as those who have become refugees, or who have been affected by natural disasters, are paramount. Supportive services and opportunities need to be available for these girls to help contribute to their self-empowerment and to the development of their communities. Specifically, the organizations are focusing on a “commitment to promote the protection of girls from conflict and violence and to strengthen their resilience,” in addition to supporting their participation in negotiations to resolve conflicts.
Educational and career opportunities are among the key supports that are being promoted this year. A recent report published by the Meta Economic Development Organization indicates that up to 80 percent of all occupations will require solid STEM skills by 2020; however, young women in Africa are currently underrepresented in this regard. UNESCO estimates that less than 30 percent of STEM professionals in Africa are female; for this reason, a resolution was undertaken in 2015 to address this issue. The STEM promotion initiatives sound very promising, but the statement made by UNICEF on October 11 from its office in Nairobi is a grim reminder that more needs to be done to protect girls around the world: every 10 minutes, violence claims the life of a young girl, and these deaths often take place in domestic circles.