Last week, I was privileged to be in New York, for the UN Sustainable Development Summit, where the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - seeking to tackle poverty and inequality across the world - were formally adopted. It was a time of great hope and optimism: looking back at the huge progress made through the Millennium Development Goals, and the ambitious aspiration that is within our grasp over the next fifteen years to see extreme poverty eradicated worldwide. Since the Millennium Development Goals were adopted, extreme poverty has almost halved, child mortality has more than halved, and 2.6 billion more people have access to clean drinking water. But I was also struck by some of the more stubborn problems we face. Great progress has been made on human dignity and gender equality over the past fifteen years, but a glance at the new SDGs show us how far we have to go. It has been urgently necessary for the SDGs to cover equal rights to education and economic resources; to look at how to enable the empowerment of women; and to ensure that schools can have 'access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene', because so many girls across the world are prevented from attending school when this not the case.
In many ways, this fight for equal human dignity and worth for all - whether opposed on the basis of gender, or race, or religion - is a tougher challenge than defeating extreme poverty, or providing clean drinking water. It may be a battle which we never finish fighting. As the actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson said at the UN last year, 'No country in the world can yet say that they achieved gender equality. These rights, I consider to be human rights, but I am one of the lucky ones. My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn't love me less because I was born a daughter.'
Yet, no every daughter is so fortunate. As a recent Department of Health publication showed, even in the UK daughters can often be seen as less valuable, or even a failure, just because of their gender. As one case study in the publication reported, one 25 year old mother aborted her baby girl, because 'for various complex cultural reasons both self imposed and community imposed, she thought by giving birth to a boy she would be accepted into the family', but not if she had given birth to a girl. At 29 she aborted twin girls for the same reason. Another case study tells of a man pressurised into divorcing his wife when she gave birth to their third daughter. In another, a mother of two sons decided to abort the girl she was expecting, because as 'the eldest of six girls...she recalls each time her mother went to the hospital of how disappointed everyone was when each time it was a girl. This is experience traumatised and consumed her so much that the thought of giving birth to a girl meant disappointment, betrayal and lowered status within the family and community.' These stories reveal a hidden problem in our own society; and not one particular to certain communities: 'family balancing' is becoming an increasingly common phrase.
This Sunday, 11 October, is the International Day of the Girl Child. It is a day of celebration: of daughters, of universal human dignity, and of the great privilege it is to be a parent to a daughter - just as it is to a son.
The wonderful Pink Ladoo campaign is marking the occasion by handing out a box Pink Ladoo, traditional sweets, to parents of all the babies - male and female - born in Birmingham Women's Hospital. It is a tradition that had previously been reserved for sons, with no equivalent for daughters, and it is a beautiful gesture to celebrate daughters on this day.
So, in that same spirit, on International Day of the Girl Child, let us celebrate all daughters, and our equal human value, and oppose the sexism that leads so many women to abort their beautiful baby daughters, just because of their gender. It hurts so many; it is beneath our shared human dignity; and it is far beneath the lofty goals set at the United Nations last week.