Speech by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the Plan International Because I am a Girl Launch Event, New York, 11 October 2012, on the occasion of the first International Day of the Girl Child.
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Good afternoon. I wish all of you a happy first International Day of the Girl Child. I wish all the best to girls around the world!
It is so great to be here with you today. This is a historic day! I thank Plan International’s CEO Nigel Chapman for inviting me. I thank you Chair Ellen Loj. Let’s give Plan International, and the Governments of Canada, Peru and Turkey a big applause for playing a leading role in establishing the International Day of the Girl Child.
I commend Plan International for their State of the World’s Girls report, and for inviting me to contribute a foreword to this important report on girls’ education.
I would not be up here right now as the first Executive Director of UN Women, I would not have been the first woman President of my home country of Chile, or the Minister of Defense, or the Minister of Health, or a medical doctor if I had not had the opportunity to receive an education.
Education is a basic human right. Education is a powerful force for justice, peace and equal opportunity. Education opens the door to jobs, political participation and wider choices.
And we know that education saves lives. A child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five. Girls who finish secondary education are less likely to become HIV-positive, and are up to six times less likely to marry as children.
We also know that girls who stand up for the right to education may come under attack. This happened two days ago in Pakistan when a 14-year-old girl named Malala Yousafzai and two of her schoolmates were shot by extremists.
Today on the International Day of the Girl Child, we stand in solidarity with Malala and all girls around the world who want their rights to be respected, who want to finish school, and who want to live free of violence and discrimination. All girls should have a fair chance to reach their full potential.
When I leave here today I will go to the United Nations for a panel with Desmond Tutu, UNICEF and the UN Population Fund and others to commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child. Together we are focused on ending child marriage. So that girls can be girls, not brides.
Girls with secondary schooling are up to six times less likely to marry as children. Education is one of the best strategies for protecting girls and combating child marriage.
UN Women is proud to be here today with you to celebrate the first International Day of the Girl Child.
We are proud to be part of the Secretary-General’s Global Initiative on Education launched just a few weeks ago. Education First will raise the profile of education on the global political agenda and mobilize support to achieve international goals on education. Our three top priorities are putting every child in school, improving the quality of education; and fostering global citizenship.
UN Women believes that education can play a strong role in ending violence against women and girls. At its best, education promotes mutual respect and gender equality.
That is why UN Women is working with partners to turn schools and communities into safe spaces for girls. These are safe spaces for especially discriminated groups, to engage youth for community mobilization, and to explore new strategies to boost social change. For this, we are working in countries such as Guatemala, Zambia, Bolivia, Mexico, Cambodia, Cameroon, Senegal, Nicaragua, Jamaica, India and South Africa.
We are working on new ways to engage fathers, school teachers and traditional leaders to stand up for girls.
We are partners with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts on ending violence against girls and young women. The curriculum we are developing will provide girls and young women with tools to understand the root causes of violence in their homes and communities, and to educate and involve their peers and communities to stop the violence once and for all.
Today I pledge the strong support of UN Women to the “BECAUSE I AM A GIRL” campaign.
Together we are working for the day when every girl can stand up and say: Because I am a girl, I have equal rights, equal opportunity and equal participation. I have the right to live free of violence, child marriage, and discrimination.
When every girl can say: I have the right to an education.
To the day when all girls can claim and enjoy their human rights and reach their potential!
As we say in my home country of Chile, No hay marcha atrás, there is no going backwards. We will keep on moving forward.
I thank you.