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Global Action week on education so all girls can be Mafalda

This week we are taking action for girls and women by celebrating the Global Campaign on Education’s Global Action Week on Girls and Women’s Education. I’ll start the week by borrowing ideas from Mafalda.

"Forbidden to step on grass" ... "And not on dignity?"

Mafalda is five years old, with a strong character and many ideas about the world she lives in. She challenges society in every aspect of life; from fundamental human rights, to world peace, to why children should have to eat soup. Quite a girl, like so many millions!

Mafalda has always been my favourite cartoon. A childhood reference for many generations of children in Latin America and Spain, Mafalda is the cartoonist Quino’s best known character. Quino expressed his ideas about his society during Argentina’s dictatorship.  His cartoons were so popular UNICEF invited him to illustrate the Convention on the Rights of the Child with Mafalda and friends.

But Mafalda’s reality is different from so many girls around the world…

Mafalda starts going to school when she turns five. Her parents believe in the importance of her schooling and in allowing her to question things around her. Unfortunately, many girls face barriers that are not present in Mafalda’s life.

Almost all of these are reasons why 54% of the children who are out of school worldwide, are girls:

  • Poverty: in hardship, all the family has to chip in. Girls and boys will, in many cases, end up in labour that is not beneficial to their development and violates every single one of their rights. Many girls, for example, will be forced to beg in streets or work as domestic workers, where they will be exposed to violence, rape and other risks
  • Violence at home: sadly, it occurs everywhere in the world, with girls, boys and their mothers exposed to abuse;  violence in schools and punishment is prevalent, affecting boys and girls as is violence in prisons, where girls and boys continue to be exposed to violent punishment, and often detained with adults
  • Discrimination policies and social attitudes often prevent girls from aiming higher and enjoying their rights as equal citizens

What is she potentially exposed to in the environment she lives in?

  • Early marriage: some girls are married when they are as young as nine years old and have children at a very early age, which exposes them and their babies to a high risk of death — many of their children will not survive past the age of five
  • Sexual violence: affects thousands of girls and women in conflict-affected countries, with hundreds of girls becoming victims of sexual violence every day
  • Armed recruitment: both boys and girls are forcefully recruited to become child combatants, and/or provide services to armed groups
  • Attacks on education: affect many children worldwide, including direct attacks on girls and female teachers who are targeted by groups that do not believe in the importance of their right to education.

This week is an opportunity to remind governments and societies of the many challenges we face in making sure all girls go to school and to show that girls are key, strong spokespersons for their societies.

But it is also an opportunity to share stories of the many positive developments that are taking place everywhere to make sure girls enjoy their right to education. The number of girls who have access to an education compared to their male classmates [called gender parity] has improved a lot in regions that started the decade with the worst gender gaps.

Finally, if you feel particularly inclined to express yourself in other ways, take inspiration from Mafalda below.

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