It has been a decade of great promise for girls and young women.

In the years since the first International Day of the Girl in 2012, girls and young women have led marches, sparked movements, challenged world leaders and become leaders themselves. Girls care deeply about political issues, from education, health, and poverty, to the environment and climate change. They are drivers of lasting change and need to be recognized and valued as such.

International Day of the Girl, marked annually on Oct. 11, is a key global moment to celebrate the power of girls and highlight the barriers they face. Ahead of the last decade, Plan International Canada led a successful two-year campaign that rallied thousands of supporters across the country and the Canadian government to create a dedicated day for girls at the United Nations. 

Malala Yousafzai publicly challenged the Taliban’s decree that girls in her town in Pakistan could no longer go to school, survived their attempt at assassination, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and went on to fight for girls’ education around the globe.

Climate activists Greta Thunberg from Sweden, Vanessa Nakate from Uganda, and Autumn Peltier from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in Canada told us we cannot “eat money, or drink oil,” and mobilized millions of young people through the Fridays for Futures climate strikes.

Others smashed the shame and secrecy of the violence girls experience. Like Somali-Canadian Ilwad Elman, who founded Somalia’s first rape crisis centre, or Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman who would advocate for survivors of genocide and sexual violence in Iraq, and Sonita Alizadeh of Afghanistan, who gave voice to the pain of survivors of forced child marriage, rapping, “Let me whisper to you my words. So no one hears that I speak of the selling of girls.”

Meanwhile, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the United States and Ofelia Fernández in Argentina dared to run for elected office — and won, telling us that “we are the damned present and it's our turn now."

Besides being fearless world leaders, they all have fought odds stacked against them simply because of their gender. Girls in Canada and around the globe do not underestimate the challenges they face in engaging in politics and civic life either. According to new research from Plan International’s State of the World’s Girls Report, which shines a light on how girls understand their own political and civic participation, young women and girls believe they are undervalued, undermined and underestimated.

Of the 29,000 girls and young women around the world surveyed for this research, 94 per cent said they face challenges participating in the political process, and only 12 per cent of girls and young women expressed an interest in becoming an elected representative. Here in Canada, only nine per cent of girls and young women aspire to one day become prime minister.

Yet, girls are political. When asked, girls and young women defined politics as relating to the more formal affairs of state, but, in fact, the research found that their own political involvement is wide-ranging and often rooted in the betterment of their own communities.

It is an encouraging starting point for change.

When girls are involved in political decision-making, outcomes for societies improve for everyone. Their activism improves the prospect of peace, adding billions to economies, boosting business performance and improving the lives of the next generation.

Girls' and young women’s political participation is everyone’s responsibility. It is incumbent upon all of us to break down the barriers that prevent girls from engaging in political discourse. And it needs to start well before they reach voting age.

Opinion: When girls are involved in political decision-making, outcomes for societies improve for everyone, writes Lindsay Glassco @PlanCanada. #EqualPowerNow

To achieve this, parents, caregivers, educators and leaders must champion and amplify their voices, help them confront the conditions holding them back, and support them as they venture into civic engagement.

We must also ensure all forms of gender-based violence are addressed, including in online spaces, calling on social media companies to ensure that girls and young women — particularly racialized and young women who identify as LGBTQI2S+ — are safe from bullying and harassment when they actively take part in political discourse.

And because girls cannot be what they can’t see, we need to ensure they see themselves reflected in female role models in politics and in leadership positions. Political leaders have an important role to play in actively mentoring and guiding young women to get involved and claim their political power.

As girls and young women claim their rights, ambitions and future, we must also create space for them, promote their political engagement and listen to their solutions and ideas.

Whether we move forward with girls in the lead or backwards without them is up to us. As American poet Amanda Gorman writes, “For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.”

Lindsay Glassco is the president and CEO of Plan International Canada, a global organization dedicated to advancing children's rights and equality for girls.

Keep reading

As for girls and (young) women being undervalued in society, I'm pretty sure that's been the case for generations. And now we undervalue old people (who actually remember "what happened" as opposed to the Official Story about what happened. We undervalue people with disabilities (unless their disabilities are high on the hierarchy of disabilities "we" are prepared to take seriously, regardless of science and various pieces of disability legislation. We undervalue people who "wind up" poor, often if not usually as a result of multiple streams of being devalued, and deemed not worthy of decency.
There are many young girls and women doing "good stuff" ... and it might be a good thing that in the main they are not interested in elected office: heaven knows the female politicians in the news tend to be ineffective in making change, because within our main political parties, change isn't the goal.
That much should be obvious by now, especially in relation to climate change.

But largely, girls and boys both line up politically with their parents, and parents tend to be a significant part of the "infrastructure" that advances both, whether they're progressive or reactionary.

It's kind of bizarre to suggest that, say, the daughters of, say, Clarence Thomas, or Leslyn Lewis, ought to be supported and mentored because of their race, for reasons that should be obvious.