International Day of The Girl Child: Collaborating for Change to Equality and Planet

On International Day of The Girl Child, director of With and For Girls Collective Swatee Deepak shines a light on partnerships that are supporting girl-led initiatives empowering girls globally.

It’s fitting that this year’s theme for International Day of the Girl Child is ‘Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable!’ Seeing the images of hundreds of thousands of girls and young people take to the streets around the world, marching for the future of the planet over the past year has been deeply inspiring. Young people and girls want change – especially considering that 80% of those impacted by climate change are women and girls

We know that girls experience particular injustices at the intersection of their gender and age. An estimated 12 million girls are married before the age of 1872% of human trafficking victims are women and girls; 130 million girls are not in school; and every 10 minutes, a girl dies as a result of violence. Violence is the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls globally.

When something in philanthropy and development needed to change, girls everywhere began organising. It’s not just the Gretas, Malalas, or Autumns, but the thousands upon thousands of girls around the world, in the UK and Syria, Hong Kong and Mali, the US and Mexico, who are fighting for change in their communities, their land and their planet. Girls are smart, opinionated and should be able to make decisions on matters that affect them.

With and For Girls (WFG) is a funding collaborative that seeks to shift the scales of power in teen girls’ favour. It gives financial support to girl-led and girl-centered groups around the world and engages young women in participatory grantmaking panels. This means every year former winning organisations train teen girls to choose the next prize recipients. Girls and young women aged 10 to 24 make up 12.5% of the world’s population — around 900 million people total. But, less than 2 cents of every international aid dollar goes to campaigns directed toward girls in this age group. Since 2014, 15 WFG girls panels involving 78 girls across 9 countries have awarded close to $3 million to 60 girl-led and girl-centered organisations in 41 countries.

At WFG, we recently launched a new fund to support global collaboration and transnational movement-building. The fund provides opportunities for existing winners of the With and For Girls Award to collaborate across borders and issue areas, exchange solutions and amplify the power of their collective voices.

Many extraordinary partnerships have emerged from the new fund: from a new media project to share truth of violence against girls, animal rights and land rights in South Africa, Kenya and the USA; to a partnership between survivors of trafficking in Pakistan and Serbia. Across places and spaces, girls are coming together to re-imagine the future of their movements. In an era of increasing populism and transnational relationships that focus on trade or extraction, girls are showing us what’s possible when we provide access to resources for them. One such example is the Unearth project led by girls from BRAVE in South Africa, Global Girl Media in the US and Samburu Girls Foundation in Kenya.

What’s the link between animal rights, land rights and girls’ rights? Unearth brought together girls from across South Africa, the US and Kenya to exchange stories, share ideas and build a global peer network to support girls who live close to natural reservations to become storytellers and advocates, as well as conservationists and advocates for wildlife.

“Since joining Unearth in late April, I have united with my sisters from across Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania in fighting against early marriage, FGM and beading,” Lekaasia, a 17-year-old Unearth participant, says. And, in partnership with Save the Elephants, the young women are receiving education and training related to anti-poaching efforts, conflicts between wildlife and humans, and conservation practices. Lekaasia has learned about “access to clean water for both girls and wildlife, and employing more women in conservation jobs like rangers, researchers, even conservancy owners and managers. Unearth has taught me that indeed when you educate a girl or woman, you educate the whole society.”

Seeing the pictures of Greta Thunberg meeting Tokata Iron Eyes, a fierce young indigenous girl who spearheaded the #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock, was deeply inspiring. This is how movements are built, in solidarity and with the humility to recognise the expertise of those at the front line, the young grassroots activists who have been fighting for years. 

“I became an activist before I had even heard the word. My duty is to be a guardian and protector of mother earth she has given everything to us to be here.” Tokata Iron Eyes.

It is girls who have the drive to unleash radical change in a growing patriarchal and authoritarian world. There is a hugely inspiring lesson to be learnt from the capabilities of adolescent girls – from the confidence and ability they are able to show, to their resilience and determination in the face of extremely challenging circumstances and pervasive discrimination

This International Day of the Girl, we continue to celebrate the strong and fearless girls who are leading change in the face of tremendous injustice and backlash in their communities every day and make sure we push ourselves and other funders to commit to the pledges girls asked us to take but also to be in deep service of listening to and learning from girls, every day.

Read articles on FGM, Human Trafficking and Women in Conflict from our Difficult Conversations series with The Circle NGO.

Find out about the Inspiring Girls initiative.