By Representative Betty McCollum
Today, October 11th, marks the first International Day of the Girl Child -- a day to advocate for the rights of girls and young women worldwide and fight against destructive gender inequalities.
This day is a celebration of the tremendous intellect, energy, and potential that every girl possesses. We need the international community to stand with girls to make sure they have the opportunity to go to school and grow to adulthood in a healthy and safe community. Unfortunately, this is not the case for tens of millions of girls around the world who face tremendous obstacles that prevent them from achieving their potential. Hunger, poverty, violence, and forced marriage deny girls in the developing world opportunities that many girls in America take for granted.
Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and newspapers all around the world ran editorials, condemning the Taliban attack on a 14-year-old Pakistani girl. Malala Yousufzai, was targeted by the Taliban for speaking out in support of the basic rights of all girls. Malala Yousafzai's courageous and just campaign resulted in her being shot in the head. Malala is a brave, determined heroine, and her struggle represents the struggle of millions of girls who only seek the freedom to have a future free from ignorance, coercion, sexual violence, and poverty. Tragically, like Malala, girls in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Niger, Afghanistan, and many other countries see their dreams dashed and their childhoods ended when they are denied education, forced to work, or forced to marry and bear children, often putting their own lives at risk. Her story is a horrific reminder that as a global community we must do more to protect the basic human rights of girls and do more to address to political, social, and economic challenges too many young women still face.
Although the global community has made progress towards achieving greater gender equality, there is still so much work to be done. I am absolutely committed to working to ensure that every government -- rich and poor -- invests the needed resources and puts in place the necessary laws for every girl to be given the opportunity to go to school and be secure in her own community without fear of being sold to work in a factory, a brothel, or to a husband. Today, we honor girls, and I am committed to walking with them on this first day of a long march towards global gender equality.
No longer should a 13-year-old girl in Afghanistan be forced to marry a 50-year-old man to settle her father's debt. No longer should the lack of latrines at school be a reason to keep Ethiopian girls out of school. No longer should girls be forced to labor in the fields, the sex trade or as a domestic servant because they are poor. Girls deserve pathways out of poverty so they can grow up and contribute to the future of their family, community, and country. I truly believe the United States has an important role to play in championing a policy of global gender equality, and I want to commend Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador Melanne Verveer for their leadership and commitment to girls.