International Day of the Girl Child: how far have girls’ and women’s rights come?

Young woman shopping
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Yesterday was the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child. On Paul Murray Live last night, they were talking about women and girls’ rights, including here in Australia.

There is no doubt that women’s and girls’ rights and attitudes toward them have changed in the past forty years in the West. Some may argue that in some areas, such as education, the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Education experts have suggested that the education is nurturing for girls, yet failing boys. Attempts to reengage boys into education through non – traditional mean, while not wide – spread, seemed to have a positive impact.

By law, in New South Wales, women can’t be discriminated against on the basis of their gender, marital status, pregnancy or sexuality (there are exemptions for areas such as marital status and sexuality. Single – sex institutions/ clubs also are protected with exemptions).

There has been a push to make workplaces more ‘family friendly’ with many employers trying to accommodate for new mothers. Some companies, such as retail giant, Myer, offer female employees paid parental leave. The government also offers mothers eighteen weeks’ paid parental leave at A$695.00 a week.

Another area where women in Australia benefit is health awareness, with campaigns that are endorsed by celebrities making a commitment to raising awareness for breast cancer and putting it at the forefront of people’s minds. Movember aims to raise awareness at men’s health, particularly prostate cancer and mental health every November. While it’s a start, more can always be done.

Domestic violence has become another hot issue. In recent years, the Australian court system has come under heavy scrutiny over how domestic violence perpetrators, including murderers (yes, that’s what they are when they kill someone. I don’t buy the “guilty plea makes it manslaughter crap), are given way too lenient sentences.

More recently, the public has become aware of “child brides” (a.k.a. rape victims). These girls who are often barely teenagers, are often ‘married off’, (i.e. raped), to men decades older than them. These ‘marriages’ (a.k.a condoned child abuse), have been solemnised by religious leaders. Unfortunately, when taken to court, perpetrators have been given insanely low sentences.

 

Aboriginal women are particularly vulnerable to domestic  violence. with statistics indicating that Aboriginal women are thirty – five times more likely to be hospitalised because of family violence than the general population. Until recently, this is another issue that people have been keeping their heads in the sand about. Fortunately, more people are speaking up. Last year, former National President of the Labor Party and Chairman of Government Advisory Council for Aboriginal Affairs, Warren Mundine wrote an article in the Australian, condemning the epidemic of violence in Aboriginal communities, the actions (or inaction) of prominent Aboriginal leaders and the demonising of people who dared speak out.

 

Girls and women around the world

Obviously, Australia is, by and large, much better off than many other countries around the world when it comes to the rights of women and girls. Last month, I wrote that even though women were able to drive in Saudi Arabia,  no long – lasting change would happen unless attitudes changed.

 

According to UNESCO, around the world, there is 31 million primary school – aged girls that don’t go to school. 34 million adolescent aged girls don’t attend high school. Women make the majority (two – thirds) of people who are illiterate world wide. This means more than 60 million girls and teenagers are at risk of early marriage and pregnancy (which, for many can be fatal for both the baby and the mother).

 

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is also a big issue. It’s been brought to the attention of Westerners due to cases that have happened in the UK and here in Australia. Worldwide, it’s estimated that over 200 million girls are  victims of the barbaric ‘procedure’. This is due to myths and scaremongering over females and their sexuality. This is inexcusable.

 

While many countries around the world have made strides in women’s and girls’ rights, many still have a long way to go. The West in particular should not turn a blind eye to the atrocities that happen to girls worldwide, nor excuse them. I think it’s also important for women in the West to acknowledge that great strides have been made to benefit us. It’s not perfect, things by and large are still good.

 

What do you think is the greatest achievement made in regard to women’s and girls’ rights? It can be happening anywhere around the world. 

So, what are your thoughts? Don't be shy to share them.

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