A much needed International Day of the Girl - Opinion - Al Jazeera English
According to UN Women, half of sexual assaults globally are committed against girls under 16. The World Health Organisation estimates that in 2002 alone, 150 million girls under the age of 18 suffered some form of sexual violence.
In the US, 83 per cent of girls experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools, and Canadian statistics reveal that 64 per cent of all reported sexual assaults are against children.
Girls are sexually abused by school-principals, teachers and classmates. Medical research conducted by Human Rights Watch in South Africa found that almost 38 per cent of victims identified a schoolteacher or principal as their rapist. Schools are not exactly safe places for girls.
The pervasiveness of violence against girls led the United Nations to declare the International Day of the Girl. In the wake of the 2006 Secretary-General Study on Violence Against Children, the UN appointed a Special Representative on the issue, and in 2009 the International Girl Child Conferencein The Hague stressed the importance of gender inequalities among children. The failure to respond to violence against girls expresses the political tolerance vis-à-vis such crimes and international efforts are increasingly geared at changing social inertia
School-related violence undermines girls' physical and psychological well-being, often causing them to drop out and hindering their educational achievement. In the long run, violence against girls impacts women's self-esteem, agency and empowerment into adulthood.
Girls who drop out of school will be more vulnerable socio-economically and more likely to submit to domestic violence later in life. They will also be less likely to become political leaders. If we want more women running for elections, as Ecuadorian political parties do, we must make schools safer environments for girls. Women's empowerment begins with girls' empowerment.