Celebrate girls! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For all that we talk about the rights and needs of women, we often forget that women come from somewhere. Women, as Simone de Beauvoir infamously put it, aren’t born but are made. They are often (though not always) made from children called “girls.”

And from the beginning, no matter where you’re from, girls (like boys) are taught at an early age what exactly “girl” means.

“Girl” can be empowering: Mighty Girl, Girls Rule, Girls Run the World.

But, all too often, “girl” is synonymous with marginal, unimportant, and chattel. Whether being slated for marriage as soon as one begins to menstruate, or hearing someone tell your dad for the umpteenth time, “Dude, daughters only bring trouble;” whether being told that secondary school is a luxury when you have a family to feed or realizing that the odds are very much against you getting to become president (at least without catching a huge amount of crap); whether being told to “act like a lady” or “go home to your husband whether he beats you or not;” girl children are universally being exposed to messages that say they don’t matter.

A girl who grows up hearing that she doesn’t matter, whether from everyone or only from a select few, all too often becomes a woman who believes that she doesn’t matter.

October 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child. It’s only the third time we have highlighted, on a global level, the myriad challenges that girls face worldwide.

This year we focus on adolescent girls: the ones who are in that hybridized danger zone between childhood and adulthood. The ones who are exploring sexual relationships for the first time, are considered old enough to be married with children, are being told they need to quit school, are being told they need to dream (but not too big).

Adolescence is a time of identity formation and self-discovery. All too often, girls in this age bracket have their journeys constrained by negative feedback and violence. That goes for all of us, everywhere, around the world.

Events are being held globally to mark this day and challenge all seven billion of us to end the cycle of violence that perpetuates negative outcomes for adolescent girls. Violence perpetrated against girls who go to school, who refuse to marry, who stand up to their rapists, who speak out.

Celebrate girls!

Image courtesy of Flickr user Vladimir Pustovit.

Want to get involved?

Hear a speech

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the U.N. Women Executive, will give a speech at UNICEF.

Join a rally

Chicago will be holding a rally with speakers, performers, and more.

Attend a summit

Day of the Girl is hosting an 11-day online summit to engage participants in discussing the special issues facing girls across the U.S. and around the world.

Get involved online

UNICEF is hosting a variety of international events that can be attended virtually.

If you aren’t quite ready to participate this year, look into what you can do for next year.

My optimistic side hates me for writing the following, but it’s true: One day in 2014 isn’t sufficient to eradicate violence against girls and women in 2015. There will still be a need for empowered, activist female voices next year, and the more we can throw ourselves into making a change, the more likely it is that someday we won’t need an International Day of the Girl Child anymore.

Learn to speak with both your mind and heart.

For the ground beneath will hold you, dear —

know that you are free.

And never grow a wishbone, daughter,

where your backbone ought to be.    –Sarah McMane

What does this special day mean to you? Share with us in the comments!