As a future development practitioner, I am often confronted with highly complex and difficult issues that sometimes seem hopeless to resolve. Self-reflection is a tool I use to revisit the choices I have made that have brought me to this place and remind myself of why it is so important to not only understand, but to get it right to achieve a positive and lasting change.
Last month, I attended the International Conference on Sustainable Development at Columbia University in New York City. I presented a paper on my time in Kenya working with the World University Service of Canada’s project KEEP (Kenya Equity in Education Project). The project’s focus was on providing education to girls in refugee camps (check out my blog post here on my time at KEEP). I was anxious to discuss my paper and my time working with girls who sought nothing more than to attend school and expand their horizons beyond the camps. This experience brought to life issues that I knew were important and had to be addressed. Today, countries around the world are taking the time to commemorate the Day of the Girl. This day is meant to remind us that those most vulnerable to conflict and instability at both the local and national level are girls.
I remember what it was like 5 years ago when we only dreamed of seeing such a day. Back in 2011, I was an active member of Plan Canada’s Because I am A Girl campaign. At the time, our goal was to have an international day of the girl recognized on the global stage. Why was this so important? We knew that girls and young women suffered distinct and targeted barriers to stop and prevent their growth and development into strong and empowered young women. The issues we addressed ranged from ending child marriage to bridging the digital divide and advocating for girls education.
I travelled to the UN’s 55th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City with girls from countries like Finland, Cameroon, Indonesia, the U.S, Sierra Leone and Canada (sorry if I am leaving anyone out!) as youth ambassadors to attend and advocate for this important day. As a Canadian, I am proud to say that Rona Ambrose, who at the time was Canada’s Minister on the Status of Women, met with us at the CSW, understood the importance of the day and introduced a resolution for the recognition of the Day of the Girl to the UN General Assembly.
What has happened since? Well, we achieved our goal and October 11th was named International Day of the Girl. Cities worldwide are commemorating this day in their own unique was and taking the time to consider the specific barriers that girls face in both high-income nations and low-income nations.
It is important to note that since this time, important actors continue to advocate for girls education and girls rights: Malala Youfsafzai has became a household name. the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama has championed girls education around the world and our very own Madame Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau is an ambassador for Because I am a Girl and spreads the word on this issue. Now, I am not a Nobel Laureate or an important figure in politics or otherwise, but I have always known that girls rights and access to education is not and should never be optional. From refugee camps in Kenya to classrooms at Waterloo, girls and young women are making their mark. I did not know back in 2011 that this issue would attract such attention. Nor did I know that years later, i would be discussing this issue again in that very same city. As grateful as I am for all that has happened since, I believe we still have a long way to go in addressing and eliminating the challenges with regards to girls rights, their voice and their story. As I continue to attend my classes on the practical aspects of international development, it is a shame to say that skepticism comes a little too easily. Today, I remember this same feeling when back in 2011, I was unsure of whether we could acheive a Day of the Girl. But now that we are here, I suggest that we take it all the way: that no girl or young woman be denied her right to grow and learn. Should this be a reality, I can almost guarantee that the world will be a little brighter than it is today, than it was in 2011. I have seen it happen with my own eyes.
Kadra Rayale is a student in cohort 4 of the Master of Development Practice program. Her background is in history and political science, and she holds certificates in Refugee and Migration Studies, Law and Social Thought and Bilingualism (English and French). Her research interests include forced and voluntary migration trends and climate change.