THE BLOG
10/10/2013 13:23 BST | Updated 09/12/2013 05:12 GMT

International Day of the Girl: A Call to Action

In some countries in the world, 90% or more girls and women undergo genital mutilation.

76% of all trafficking victims are female.

Women hold only 21% of the seats in parliament.

These are just a few of the depressing statistics offered this week in a BBC infographic (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-24402849) on what problems women face and what opportunities they have.

Such numbers help explain why we need events such as International Day of the Girl, which is celebrated on the 11th of October.

Females make up half of the world's population and yet simply aren't able to live free lives that are equal in rights and responsibilities to men's lives.

Women aren't paid as much as men.

Women don't have complete control over their own bodies.

Women don't have as much access to education.

Women are more likely to be sexually, emotionally, and psychologically abused.

Women, in short, are missing out and because of that, society is missing out. If women's voices aren't being heard, then there are many viewpoints, ideas, and contributions that we aren't receiving and learning from. Our world is all the poorer because of this.

Although having just one day a year to bring attention to these issues isn't enough, it is a start. Beginning a conversation about the situation for females in the world will, one hopes, lead to action.

Here in Norwich, for example, there will be two days of activities - organised by Sarah Godfrey and Tori Cann from the University of East Anglia - in the city centre to raise awareness. There will be an exhibition of art and writing about what it means to be a girl today. There will be a series of open discussions, all open to the general public, on topics as disparate as volcanology, blogging, sports, TV, and literature. On Friday, there will be a conference for local schoolgirls, who are invited to spend a few hours considering what role their gender plays in shaping their lives. In my session, for instance, girls will write short stories based on the messages they have been given about what they are supposed to be like, do, say, and feel like as females.

Hopefully such events will make females themselves feel more confident and it will encourage them to do what they want to do in their lives and not be held back by what others say they should do.

But it is also important that males join in this conversation. Without support from males - the ones who, after all, tend to make the laws and control the institutions that keep women from complete equality - it will be hard for women to get all the rights they deserve in every country in the world. And despite popular belief, men can be feminists too. In fact, men should be feminists too, because feminism is, at its core, the belief that all people are equal and are deserving of equal rights.

So this year, for International Day of the Girl, let's have some serious discussions about what it means to be a female in our world today. But the conversations shouldn't end after 11 October; rather, they need to continue, and they need to turn into action.

Note: All the events in Norwich will take place in the Forum and the conversations are in Café Bar Marzano's. See http://www.dayofthegirlnorwich.org/resources/CafeConversationsFlyer2013.pdf for more information.