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Caroline Riseboro

Seeing girls as leaders will change the world

Caroline Riseboro

Imagine a young girl living in poverty in Haiti. She is small for her age. She isn’t fed as much as the boys in her community and has less energy than them when she plays outside.

Imagine that this girl’s mother dropped out of school to be a farmer and support her family as a single parent.

Imagine that because of Plan International Canada this girl has the opportunity to become educated, aspire to be a nurse, and build a better life for herself.

The girl you see in your mind’s eye is Jovena, 6. She is my sponsored child and one of the 50.5 million girls that you, our donors, help around the world every year.

Caroline with her sponsored child

Jovena, 6, my sponsored child living in Haiti

Your support is not just staggering in terms of the number of girls you are helping. It is also staggering because it brings girls and their rights to the world’s stage. The time for this could not be more appropriate because girls, with their inherent power, envision themselves as equals and are looking to us to be their allies.

International Day of the Girl, which Plan International Canada initiated through collaboration with the Government of Canada and the UN, is a key day to honour the power and equality of girls. The reason is that it brings girls into focus; it makes them and their issues visible. Visibility is critical because its inverse is the essence of oppression.  Girls, especially adolescent girls, are among the most vulnerable and excluded, and therefore most oppressed, populations in the world.

Millions of girls are invisible to governments and policy makers because they are not being counted. We don’t count how many girls leave school because of early marriage, pregnancy or violence, how many give birth before they turn 15, how many hours a day they spend working, what kind of work they do and whether they get paid for it.

For too long girls and their issues, such as the ones captured above, have been invisible within the sphere of the children’s rights movement because of gender and invisible in the sphere of the women’s rights movement because of age. This double discrimination based on age and gender, and its lack of visibility, compounds other sources of exclusion—for example, extreme poverty, race, religion, sexual orientation.

What’s crucial here is that what you can’t see, you can’t know. And if you can’t know, it’s impossible to understand the need, and make the case for, change.  As donors, you have the power to be key players in the transformation of this alarming invisibility, helping other people become aware of girls’ issues, and improving the lives of girls around the world.

Your generosity is your power and you empower Plan International to leverage International Day of the Girl, October 11, so that we can promote girls’ visibility and drive new opportunities for action and investment in girls. On the fifth International Day of the Girl, we are mobilizing the girls’ rights movement and declaring that girls belong in the decision-making seats and spaces where they are traditionally not seen or heard to illustrate that every girl has the right to equal opportunity.

In this year’s campaign, Plan International is organizing girls from across the world to fill the seats of political, social and economic leaders, so that we can celebrate girls’ inherent power to learn, lead, decide and thrive. Here in Canada, of ministers in Canadian government, the Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations in New York, the head of the Ottawa School Board, as well as my own. They will receive training and mentorship, and have the opportunity to make meaningful decisions, while demonstrating that #GirlsBelongHere— in leadership seats.

I could not be more thrilled to see a young women occupy positions of leadership, particularly my own.  The reason for this is the same reason I asked you to imagine a girl living in poverty: addressing the politics of visibility—of who is seen and therefore matters—is key to solving the world’s most intractable problems. We can’t improve what we can’t measure. That’s why it’s critical to continue to bring visibility to the invisible by shining a light on what we don’t know and developing data that will reveal insights about the challenges that girls faces, identify the needs that girls have, and gauge what works and what does not in transforming the lives of girls.

While International Day of the Girl is a crucial time for making girls and their issues visible, one day alone is not enough to make this visibility sustainable.  Your support is critical in creating this sustainability: it enables Plan International Canada to bring girls to the forefront of Canada’s foreign aid, close the gender gap by closing the data gap through our Sustainable Development Goal tracker, and transform our Because I am a Girl campaign into a global movement for change.

Girls smiles for cameraI hope that International Day of the Girl inspires you to consider how we can continue to collaborate as Canadians and as a global village. Together we can encourage the inherent power in all girls and help them envision the multitude of ways that they can harness their talents, as well as seize opportunities, to learn, lead, decide and thrive, every day.

Our collaboration is not only vital to the visibility of girls, but also for realizing a gender equality that enables all children have the ability to reach their fullest potentials.

Thank you for your continued support in defining new ways of seeing and realizing a more just world!