Despite progress, women and girls’ rights to equality are still an international plight
October 11 marked the tenth year of celebration for the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child in Canada, a day to celebrate achievements and recognize unique hardships faced by girl children throughout the world.
Officiated in 2011 at the United Nations General Assembly, the day seeks to highlight ways to enforce the human right that “adolescent girls have the right to a safe, educated, and healthy life, not only during these critical formative years but also as they mature into women,” according to the United Nations.
Some major issues highlighted by this year’s awareness campaign include girls’ increasing risk of child marriage, sexual harassment and exploitation, and their rights to education. All of these issues have heightened due to the effects of COVID-19, humanitarian conflicts across the world, and climate change.
The day comes in the middle of a major counter-revolution led by women and girls in Iran for the right to religious and bodily freedom against what many have labelled “morality police.” This revolution comes after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman in Iran, who died in police custody after wearing her hijab improperly in the Islamic Republic. Amini’s story has empowered thousands of Iranians to protest against the restrictive regime. The death toll has reached over 200 and thousands have been arrested, according to The Cut news sources.
Social media has been restricted, but international solidarity has continued to support the protests in limited ways and has brought about other dialogues regarding women’s and girls’ rights and freedoms in the modern world. Access to the internet, freedom of self-expression, and knowledge are some other concerns arising from the protests.
With education being such an essential tool for empowerment, political and social engagement, and inciting change, women’s and girls’ access to education is vital. Mt. A has had a major historical role in instating women’s rights to education in the institution.
In 1875, Grace Annie Lockhart graduated from the University, becoming the first woman in the British Empire to receive a bachelor’s degree. Lockhart received a bachelor of science and English literature, and was assumed to be an activist for social reform despite the conventional homemaking role she took on in her life.
Despite Mt. A’s historical track record of leading feminist practices, it is important to also recognize the still-existing barriers to equality for women and girls. For many, barriers such as poverty, marriage, lack of access to reproductive support, and social and cultural norms of women’s roles in society make it difficult to attend and finish school in countries all across the world, including Canada.
As Grace Annie Lockhart explained in one of her famous quotes, “it is the higher education of women to fit them for the higher spheres of action, whether they be political, professional, or social – the same education that men need under the same circumstances.” True equality for women and girls includes the right to hold valuable space in systems of power, alongside the abolishment of patriarchal norms within the systems themselves. Education is arguably a major step towards this goal, which can only be accomplished once basic human rights—including the rights to water, food, housing, safe and supportive upbringings, and freedom of speech—are acquired.