Empower a Girl: Change the World

17 September 2012

Why is it important to have a day to formally recognise girls? Explore this question at the free One Just World forum.
Why is it important to have a day to formally recognise girls? Explore this question at the free One Just World forum.

October 11 marks the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child, a day to promote girls' rights and address the discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the world.

At a special Sydney Ideas forum this week, a panel asks: "Why is it important to have a day to formally recognise girls?"

In developing countries life is tough for girls. An estimated 100 million girls have gone missing because their parents prefer a boy. Girls are more likely to suffer malnutrition and 70,000 girls are forced into child marriages every day. Girls have a higher instance of HIV and AIDS. Selling of girls is rampant, with some sold for less than goats and cows.

Why is this happening? Education plays a major part. Girls with higher levels of education marry later, have smaller families, survive childbirth at higher rates, experience reduced incidences of HIV/AIDS, have children more likely to survive to age five and earn more money.

Dr Elizabeth Cassity, a lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney and one of the speakers at the forum, said: "I would hope girls have access to a full course of quality education. A girl being able to choose the level of education she would like to receive empowers her for the future. It's something we take for granted here in Australia. A lot of girls in developing countries don't have access to education at all."

She added: "It is very important to have this focus on the inaugural International the day of the girl child but I would also suggest we don't forget the importance of women teachers and leaders in girls' empowerment and education."

Girls need to be able to develop skills so that they can go into work, make smart decisions and help their families. Yet around the world 35 million girls who should be in school are not. So is this where we start in addressing the inequalities? What else can be done? Is it even right to focus aid efforts on girls rather than communities as a whole?

The event will be hosted by broadcaster and journalist Tracey Spicer, with panellists to include:

Penny Williams, Australia's first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls. Within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the Australian Government she is responsible for high-level advocacy to promote Australian government policies and activity regarding gender equality and the social, political and economic empowerment of women and girls, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

Elizabeth Cassity, a lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. She has spent her academic career in the field of comparative and international education, and has lived and worked in a number of countries. She was a teacher/project director with a women's literacy project in northern Namibia, conducted PhD fieldwork in Fiji, and has recently examined bilateral education policy in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Maddy Gould, a member of Youth Planning a Change Today (Youth PACT) for Plan Australia. Maddy is in year 9 at Berwick Secondary College and the youngest member of Youth PACT, Plan in Australia's youth team. She is passionate about empowering girls because girls are of incredible value and should be considered and treated equally.

Karen Allen, Deputy Representative at UNICEF in Pakistan. In this job, she coordinates emergency, recovery and development programs for children in the areas of health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and protection, target the poorest children and families, with special emphasis on ending gender based discrimination against girls. Prior to coming to Pakistan in June 2008, Karen was UNICEF's Deputy Representative in Uganda, and Regional Programme Planning Chief for eastern and southern Africa.

One Just World

One Just World is a national series of free, after-work speakers' forums designed to involve the community in conversation and debate on key international development issues facing Australia, the Asia-Pacific and beyond. Past topics include climate change, gender equality, international development, food and nutrition, human rights, or disability and development. Forums feature panel of experts, and the audience has an opportunity to address questions to the panel.

One Just World a partnership between World Vision Australia, the International Women's Development Agency (IWDA), AusAID and a University in each state.

Event details

What: Empower a Girl: Change the World, a One Just World Forum at the University of Sydney

When: 6pm, Tuesday 18 September

Where: Seymour Centre, corner of City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale. See map and directions

Cost: Free, registration needed

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