International Day of the Girl Child

Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for International Day of the Girl, 2019

A fierce force to be reckoned with

Date: Friday, October 11, 2019

There’s no doubting the unstoppable power of today’s young women and girls to stand up for their rights and the future they want. They are a fierce force to be reckoned with. I see the marches, hear their clear voices, and witness their impatient challenge to systems and societies that are too slow to take action on issues of both personal and global concern. From resisting violence against women, to climate action, to asserting the rights of a girl and a woman to determine what happens to her body, UN Women stands by them and works to amplify their power and their calls for change.

Not all girls are able to be that vocal and that self-assured. For some, life has not brought knowledge that opens doors to a bigger life. Across the world, 15 million girls of primary school age are out of school and likely never to learn to read or write. Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18—nearly one every two seconds. For millions of girls, violence—and the fear of it—is a lurking, limiting threat, and a present danger for girls both at home and in public spaces. 

We’re working with adolescent girls in some of the world’s poorest communities to build their knowledge and their skills through programmes that draw out their strengths.One such is our partnership in Latin American countries on girls and sport with the International Olympic Committee, building the leadership skills of adolescent girls through sports programmes and teaching vital information that impacts their lives at all levels.

Fifteen-year old Marcelly Victória joined the ‘One Win Leads to Another’ sport programme in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She told us: “I know sport is a door for me to conquer other things in life.” Girls in this programme play team sports and find how to use their voice both on and off the field. They learn leadership—89 per cent of the girls on the course in Rio said they were a leader, compared to 46 per cent before the programme; 93 per cent of girls knew where to report violence; and 79 per cent of girls had learnt how to prevent pregnancy, compared to 25 per cent before. These are critical skills for all girls. Marcelly and her team now know their rights. She said, “I hope that the girls of my country don’t give up their dreams based on the opinions of others or imposed limitations. I want them to be where they want to be, as empowered women”.

No one knows this better than our Goodwill Ambassador Marta, whose stellar trajectory from barefoot street football to the global arena is an inspiration for all girls. She said: “Sport changed my life completely. It gave me the opportunity to help my family, meet other people, see other countries and experience other cultures. Sport is a tool for empowering girls, because it gives you the opportunity to do what you want and learn to respect the differences between people.”

In today’s generation of girls, I see powerful role models who have already found their voice and are taking the world stage to exercise that power as new leaders. My wish for this International Day of the Girl is that we work urgently for a new Generation Equality, to end the circumstances that currently limit the world’s least privileged children, and give our full support to the movements that allow them all to flourish.