The 11th of October is the international day of the girl, and that's something worth celebrating. And before someone complains that there is no day of the boy, let's quickly point out that most days are for boys. And, no, thinking about girls on 11 October doesn't mean saying that girls are better than boys, and it doesn't involve promoting girls above boys.
What it does mean is considering what life is like for half the world's population.
As the publicity information on the day (see dayofthegirlnorwich.tumblr.com, among others) says, "only 30% of girls in the world are enrolled in secondary school" and "the overall pay gap between men and women is 20.2%". These are frightening, depressing statistics. So is the fact that "one in seven girls will be forced to marry before the age of 15".
So what can we do on this one day of the year set aside to consider the plight of females? Well, the simplest thing is that we can talk. We can start discussions. How are girls and women depicted in literature and on TV and in other media? What does that say about society? How do females experience their daily lives? What hopes and expectations do we have for girls? How can we help girls make their dreams a reality?
Talking can lead to action. These discussions might inspire us. So then we can donate money to causes that help keep girls in school or that lobby against child brides or that offer assistance to rape victims. Besides offering money, we can volunteer our time. Do we know a girl who could use some extra tutoring? Do we know a woman who is looking for a job but needs interview practice? Could we answer the phone at a hotline for abused young people one day a week? Or maybe we can help organise awareness-raising events or fundraisers.
Action can lead to change. While sometimes it feels that one discussion or one donation won't do much, in fact helping just one person can have serious knock-on effects. And besides, isn't touching one life meaningful enough?
Here in Norwich, the organisers of our celebrations, Tori Cann and Sarah Godfrey, have planned an action-packed two days. They've arrange an exhibition of art and writing on what it means to be a girl in 2012, and there will be a series of informal, free discussions on relevant topics (on 10 October, I'm leading one on stereotypes of females in young adult fiction).
What Cann and Godfrey seem to want to accomplish is to get the conversation going and to make people think about how iniquitous our world can be. If we understand the challenges that many females continue to face in society today, we can begin to make changes, and eventually maybe we won't have to have an international day of the girl.
Perhaps in a few years, every day will be the day of the girl, just as it already is the day of the boy.
Note: All the events in Norwich will take place in the Forum and the conversations are in Café Bar Marzano's. See dayofthegirlnorwich.tumblr.com for more information.