International Day of the Girl Reminds us that Young Girls Voices Deserve to be Amplified
Updated: Oct 23, 2020
This year, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for breakthrough work done to develop methods of editing DNA. Crispr-Cas9, a project over eight years in the making, has the potential to cure genetic disorders, create new crops, and bring plants back from extinction. While the technology is extraordinary, there’s another aspect of this year's award that’s equally as shocking. The co-creators, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, represent the first time in history that the award has gone to two women.
Despite previous societal suppression, women have excelled in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for generations. Marie Curie was the first female to earn the Nobel Prize (1903), the only woman to earn two, and the only laureate to be recognized in two distinct fields (physics and chemistry). Grace Hopper, or “Amazing Grace” as she was known, earned her Ph. D. in mathematics from Yale before developing the first code compiler and paving the way for modern computer programming. Mary Allen Wilkes wrote the first computer operating system literally creating the first PC. Despite these mammoth achievements, and the successes of many women in STEM since, the barrier to entry for girls of all ages remains disproportionately high.
The female representation gap
Women currently account for only 18% of STEM-related bachelor’s degrees, 30% of master’s degrees, and 20% of doctorate degrees. After college, the odds aren’t much better. Only 28% of the workforce in STEM are women, leaving over 70% to men. This gap in female representation leaves a lack of support young girls deserve. Less women already in the field or university curriculum means less mentors available to help. Fewer leaders are available to inspire. A deficient amount of peers and colleagues looking to amplify and enable their counterparts. This adds up to an unfair lack of support for women in the field.
Celebrating a day for girls
To effectively promote the advancement of women in STEM, and in all fields for that matter, support and enablement must start at a young age. This makes days such as the International Day of the Girl, celebrated worldwide on October 11th, even more important.
The holiday began in 1995 when the World Conference on Women made history by adopting the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. These blueprints created a vision for the empowerment of women and girls. International Women’s Day brings focus to the great work and talent that women possess. That’s one of the reasons we at PTP celebrate it annually. However, it doesn’t specifically hone in on the unique discrimination facing young females across the world.
The unique difficulties girls often face
History is rife with examples of young women and girls desperately, and justifiably, fighting for their voice to be heard.
In 1946, at the age of 8, Sylvia Mendez fought her way through court (Mendez v. Westminster) to become the first Latin-American to attend an all-white school.
At only 6 years old, first-grader Ruby Bridges faced protesters and federal marshals to do the same for African-Americans. And nine months before Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin had done the same. Young female activists have been screaming for our collective attention, for causes undeniably in our best interest, for generations. We just haven’t been listening.
After leading the French army to its landmark victory at Orleans during the Hundred Year’s War, St. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake at the age of 19. That was, of course, a different time, but the climate hasn’t improved much for women who speak their voice. In 2012, an assassination attempt was carried out against 12-year-old Malala Yousafzai for blogging about what life was like for young girls under Pakistani Taliban rule. She survived, fortunately, and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize five years later. As recently as 2018, Swedish climate activist Greta Thurnberg was harshly dismissed and belittled, in public, by leaders in Washington. After inspiring tens of thousands of people to join her in demanding the Swedish Parliament to reduce carbon emissions, she was told to “chill and watch a movie with a friend”.
Girls find their voice
At a very young age, each of these women attempted to tell us something important. They had thoughts and beliefs that they knew were right, even if no one else did. They spoke up about their mission, so loud that they couldn't be ignored. Against all odds, many were successful. Our world is a better place because of the steadfast determination of countless young girls like these. International Day of the Girl is a great reminder to ourselves, what more could they have accomplished if we’d listened earlier? How much better would all of us be if we celebrated and supported them? Most importantly, what can we do today not have to ask those questions again tomorrow? How can you celebrate International Day of the Girl and help young females overcome these unique challenges?
Educate yourself about the unique obstacles women face
Share stories of inspiring girl-led organizations or adolescent girls
Speak out about making positive social change including gender equality
Amplify the actions and accomplishments of women who may otherwise not have a voice
Participate in youth-led digital activism focused on International Day of the Girl
Donate to local organizations focused on providing learning and career opportunities to girls
Volunteer your time and expertise to those same organizations
Leverage social media using the hashtag #IDG2020
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