As there is an official day for more or less every cause and circumstance in society, I am well pleased to discover that the eleventh of October each year is dedicated to “the girl child.”
I am just one parent who was fortunate to raise a little girl, and I treasure my memories of my little girl, now a woman, married with three children. I still remember the pretty Laura Ashley dresses, sharing an ice cream with me. This is something my daughter, my girl child inside the body of a woman now, does every day — takes my breath away.
However, I read about another kind of girl child. This one featured on the website of an internationally-recognised non-profit organisation dedicated to rescuing children trapped in the sex trade.
Instead of describing a little girl running outside and marvelling at the design of her dress as she swirls, this article talks about one with eyes bowed and small clasped hands. Why would the article describe this little girl as being “shrouded in shadows of shame, cultural oppression and helplessness?” She is only seven years old, after all. That’s too young to retain a firm grasp on concepts like shame. But then it all makes sense. Of course, this article is describing the survivors of child sex trafficking, rescued from a childhood bound to this monstrous fate. This is how those little girls are — instead of running and playing with the fairies, they curl themselves up in a ball as their fairies have long been destroyed.
There is a glaring difference between these little girls. Taking into account language and cultural difference, there should be no other disparity — yet there is and it’s huge! The story goes on to describe that, once rescued, these little girls go to sleep for days. It’s like they are renewing their tarnished souls. They have a lot of healing to do, and sleep is when much of the growth occurs. As these little girls are helped on their road to recovery, they will create a new identity that is free of suffering and fear.
Something that girls all over the world have had to contend with for centuries is a quest for freedom and fight against oppression on so many levels. In some places, girls nowhere near close to being women are forced to marry adult men and perform as wives. Girls need greater protection from street harassment and assault, greater access to education (and a changing of overall attitudes to reflect this), as well as sanitation access and greater religious rights and freedom for girls. Or equal rights to that of men. Not more, just equal.
Many of us in charities are aware of these battles for girls and women in developing countries, but at the same time, our society faces a similar sort of discrimination. Here are just a few to jog your memory: sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence, education inequality, gender-based violence, sexism and stereotypes, self-esteem issues in girls, employment disadvantages, breast feeding in public, access to safe abortion, and even a girls’ rights to enter places of worship or public spaces during menstruation. As a society, we fight each issue at a time, and sometimes win. Sometimes we will take one step forward only to take two back, for example whenever Donald Trump gets busy on Twitter.
Because of this, because of the sheer amount of battles to fight, and because there are currently little girls learning that their liberty comes with safety and rest, we have an International Girl Child Day on 11 October every year. This is a day to remember how far women have come. It’s also a day I think more of the plight of those little girls sold to the sex trafficking trade. Those little girls who I describe not as ‘victims’ but as ‘survivors.’
Robert Barclay is an Australian author and philanthropist through his charity, The Sunlight Foundation. His popular novels follow the life of Katy Yehonala and her daughter, Clara, as they confront the evils of society.