International Day of the Girl sets out to make them unstoppable

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
A girl attends a celebration held for International Day of the Girl Child at Juba Secondary School in Juba, South Sudan, on October 11 2016. /Getty Images / Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Anadolu Agency
A girl attends a celebration held for International Day of the Girl Child at Juba Secondary School in Juba, South Sudan, on October 11 2016. /Getty Images / Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Anadolu Agency

On Friday October 11, we celebrated International Day of the Girl under the theme "GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable".

One of the aims of this theme is to work alongside and support all girls to amplify their voices and stand up for their rights.

The theme is to celebrate all the achievements by, with and for girls since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Twenty-five years ago, women and men from nearly 200 countries arrived in Beijing, China, for the Fourth World Conference on Women, determined to recognise the rights of women and girls as human rights.

The conference culminated in the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a visionary blueprint for the rights of women and the girl child.

A day such as this, set out to focus the world's attention on the needs of the girl child, is critical. I say this because for a long time, due to culture, religion, sexism and patriarchy, girl children have been discriminated against from the earliest stages of their lives into adulthood and still are.

The status and contribution of women and the girl child continues to be undermined due to harmful attitudes and beliefs that are, unfortunately, woven into our societal fabric.

For example, there are families who choose to educate the boy child and marry off the girl child. This further entrenches gender inequalities and stunts the progress of girl children.

I find this year's theme befitting for the times that we live in.

I particularly like the "unscripted" part of this year's theme because it blatantly rejects the barriers society has put up in its script of how girls should behave.

Unscripted says I will work in whatever industry I want to work in, I will dress however I want to dress, my role in society is not limited to child raising and being in the kitchen.

Unscripted shows a big middle finger to all the gendered roles that society prescribes for girl children and uses to police girls.

Reflecting on the importance of this day, I thought to myself how can I and other men contribute to the efforts of this year's theme? I think we can contribute greatly towards goal 9 as outlined in the Platform for Action. Goal 9 calls on the international community to "strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of girls".

This particular goal stood out for me because the family unit plays a critical role in who we become as human beings. The people we create within the family unit become part of the wider community.

The family unit is also the site where some of the most problematic gendered conditioning and socialisation takes place. It is here where we need to do the big work of undoing the problematic, archaic and regressive attitudes and practices that have been made the norm by culture, religion and patriarchy.

It is therefore critical that within the home we create a space that permits girls to live unscripted and unstoppable lives. For example, ensuring that there is equitable sharing of chores in the home between the boy and the girl child.

We are thus undoing the works of patriarchy, culture and religion, which have perpetuated the idea that boys are inherently superior.

The duty to elevate the status of girls does not end with the girl child. It is important that the boy child is also taught the inherent value that girls possess; is taught to respect girls and that they are equal to girls.

Importantly, as men, we must also show them via our own actions. This is important because these boys will one day be men who are colleagues, partners and friends with women.

By intervening at an early stage in their lives, we will be on the path to having men who aren't sexist or misogynistic, and men who disdain violence against women.

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