The International Day of the Girl: Keys for Achieving Equality

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*Guest Post by UBC Student Ambassador, Karina Hsaio*

The Sustainable Development Agenda was created in 2016. This agenda introduced 17 different goals which are used as directives to eradicate global poverty. One of the crucial goals included is the need to achieve gender equality. International Day of the Girl is an important annual event that acknowledges the issue of gender inequality, promotes the empowerment of both women and men, and most importantly brings communities together.

Currently no country has successfully achieved gender equality; without the proper framework and policy implementations, women are made vulnerable to violence and discrimination. Countries also lack the relevant policies to prevent discrimination in the workplace, therefore women are still being treated unequally. Women worldwide earn less than men, for every dollar earned by men women earn 23 cents less. In politics, women represent a minority in national parliaments. When women’s contributions in the workplace are not valued equally, they are discouraged from entering the labour market or pursuing professional careers. Moreover, politics has long been viewed as a male profession; thus, without the participation of women, not only will this sector remain male dominated, policies related to the rights women will also lack the nuance necessary to achieve genuine equality.

BzmjOzbIIAAzJgY.png_large-500x500Education is one tool we can use to eradicate poverty and the problem of sexual violence. Women easily fall into the cycle of poverty due to lack of education qualifications. Without the equivalent skillsets required by the labour market, these women have limited choices when it comes to employment, and usually end up in temporary jobs. Not only are temporary jobs unstable, they also pay lower wages. Allowing women to participate in the market through stable employment will increase labour efficiency in companies; it allows the economy of a country to grow faster and stronger. Most importantly, a high percentage of women will be lifted from poverty.

The inability to secure permanent employment is one of the main reasons that women continue to rely on their husbands for financial support. Additionally, if the wife is also a victim of domestic abuse she may decide to remain silent for fear of financial insecurity. Educated women are employable women, and employable women are independent women.

But the empowerment of women and girls is insufficient for socio-cultural change – men and boys also need to be part of the conversation. Communities need to acknowledge the fact that gender equality is a fundamental human right. Men and boys are important actors in process of achieving gender equality because gender equality affects everyone.

When men and women are viewed as equal, the labour market will have a greater chance of achieving equal pay. Healthy relationships between both genders can only be achieved if mutual respect is developed. It is important to remember that the push towards societal change in gender equality does not mean pinpointing a specific culprit. Numerous factors contribute to creation of gender inequality, and it is the responsibility of the whole community to correct gender stereotypes and unfair behavior.

Other than promoting gender equality through the discussions in UN general assembly and hosting annual events like International Day of the Girl, the United Nations also promotes gender equality at the local level. To enable relevant skill development, UN Women supports computer training programs in South Sudan and India. Economic empowerment is promoted by encouraging women to start their own businesses. For example, in a Guatemalan village, women who were part of the indigenous community were encouraged to participate in an all-female entrepreneurship project. Through education empowerment women were given the relevant skillsets needed to participate in local elections, thus enabling them to participate in decision making.

The issue of gender equality has received high levels of attention internationally, and the United Nations serves as a vital platform for leaders and organizations to continue this work. However, changes can only be achieved if local and international entities improve and work alongside each other. On the international level, countries need to recognize gender equality as a basic human right and promote changes within their own administrations. Individuals and local organizations need to work together and ensure durable changes at the local level. Communities need to embrace the values of gender equality by improving access to education and through policy implementations. 

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2015 John Gibbard Award for Youth Recipient – Anjali Katta

Rev. Epperson, Anjali Katta, Tazul Ali.
Rev. Epperson, Anjali Katta, Tazul Ali.

To celebrate each UN Day (October 24), the Vancouver Branch recognizes an outstanding youth, or group of youth, who are working towards global betterment.  In partnership with the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, this year’s recipient for the John Gibbard Award for Youth was Anjali Katta. At just 18 years old, Miss Katta is already an established gender equality activist. She is the CEO of her own non-profit, GirlsCo., that seeks to educate and inform youth about the issues that women and girls face, while raising money for girls education in developing countries. She also founded Bombay Pads, a program that delivers sanitary pads and sexual education to schools and orphanages in India. Earlier this year, Plan Canada chose Miss Katta as a Top 20 Under 20 Award.  She is currently studying at Stanford University.

Here is Miss Katta’s full acceptance speech:

Hello, my name is Anjali Katta and I am 18 years old from Vancouver BC. I just want to start off by thanking UNA Vancouver and the Unitarian church for this lovely event and for presenting me with this award. Awards like these are not the reason I do the things I do, but they give me hope in that the community I live in understands the importance of my work and also understands the importance of the cause I am championing for. In a sense giving the issues of gender equality and the empowerment of girls the validation and the credibility they deserve. The United Nations Association of Vancouver’s work with educating young people through awareness building is integral in crafting a brighter future for the local community, so I just wanted to reiterate how thankful I am for the work they do. I also want to thank my parents, despite how much I grumble and groan, they are the reason I am able to stand here, and their lessons and beliefs are the reason I’ve chose to dedicate a part of my life to improving the lives of those who live in my community and beyond. A final thank you goes to all the teachers and mentors who have helped put together events or guided me when I needed it most. Your help was essential in everything I’ve done from the equality summits to the countless fundraisers. I remember, once a venue cancelled a week before an event and I was absolutely terrified and completely lost. But a teacher came through and worked tirelessly to help me find a venue, and the event was a success. This example is representative of how lucky I am to know the people I know. And as lucky and privileged as I am, I am still disadvantaged.

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I am a girl. It breaks my heart, that gender, even in 2015, defines many of my opportunities. Trying to navigate the world as a girl, I can’t help but think about how far the movement for equality has come and how far there is still to go. A lot of people deny that there is more work to be done. They look back and take stock of the progress so far, and ask do we still need feminism. I’ve realized the best way to answer this question is to imagine what our lives would be like if the women’s movement had never happened and the position of women had remained as they were in the year of our birth. If you look back 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago, the change that happened over these periods is perceptible and significant, and therefore proves that feminism was and still is needed. I believe that girls are born with an inherent sense that they are equal but every single thing around them tells them they are less than. Don’t get your dress dirty! You can’t do that you’re a girl. If you’re a girl please jump off the smaller ski hill. You can’t debate, you’re a girl and girls get too emotional. These are all phrases that I’ve heard in my life and I can’t imagine what girls hear all across the globe. Every girl is smart and kind and clever and strong and unique and has an equal right to happiness, safety, and freedom. If we give a girl a chance, give her the tools to believe in herself and that she truly is just as capable, imagine how different the world would be. How many mothers would be able to teach their children to value an education? How many girls would be able to stand up in class and not care about the way she looks? How many girls won’t have to have their beauty equated to their intelligence? How many girls would be able to lift, not only themselves, but their family’s out of poverty? I’m saying this because each and every one of us owes it to the girls of tomorrow to take an active role in creating a future with more equality and less disparity. Every one of us should be conscious of what we say and do, the little things: like using the word girl as in insult or underestimating talents simply because of gender. We should foster discussion around equality and empower at a young age. Much of my work has centered around discussion and volunteering with younger girls, and I can attest to the difference instilling confidence can make. They stand taller, talk louder, and exist unafraid to let their voices be heard. Gender should not define opportunity and it’s our obligation to make that statement a reality. How much more peaceful, how much more free, and how much more just the world would be with more equality. So the next time you see a girl, don’t tell her how pretty she is—tell her how smart, kind, clever, interesting or the millions of other adjectives she is. Thank you.

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Tanya Smith, Courtney Szto, Tama Copithorne, Maurice Copithorne, George Somerwill, Anjali Katta, Tazul Ali, Patsy George.