Sophie Grégoire (left) and Alyssa Reid, along with the The Bishop Strachan School choir raise their hands in support of girls education.

Girls take over Yonge and Dundas Square

Empowering girls to raise communities

Every girl has a story.

Such was the message of the first celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child held at Yonge and Dundas Square yesterday.

For Crystal Gao, her interest in women’s rights and girl’s issues started when she was in high school.

“I found that middle school was really a breeding ground for negative female behaviour. A lot of gossip a lot of body bashing, a lot of slut shaming,” Gao says.

“When I went into high school I wanted to create a safe and supportive community where girls could learn and share new things together; so, I started a girl’s group at my school.”

Crystal says her group held fundraisers to raise money for a worthy cause; that was when she found Plan Canada’s Because I Am A Girl initiative.

“I thought this was a great organization that really does help women all over the world,” Gao says. “We started contributing …  and I found the speakers bureau, so I thought that was a really good fit for my interests and abilities.”

The ‘Because I Am A Girl initiative’ aims to fight for the rights of girls around the world.

Now, as a youth ambassador for Plan Canada, Gao uses her voice to empower girls whose stories are not heard.

Girls such as 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who is currently lying in critical condition in a British hospital, are the very reason why the International Day of the Girl is vital to the development of our global community, says Plan Canada’s Senior Gender Advisor, Karen Craggs-Milne.

Last week, a member of the Taliban, in Pakistan, attempted to assassinate Malala, shooting her in the head and neck.

Like Gao, Yousafzai is a youth activist who encouraged Pakistani girls to strive for their right to an education.

“It’s an unfortunate and sad reminder of why we need a day like the International Day of the Girl to address the issues of girls, and to raise both their voices and the profile of the challenges they face,” Craggs-Milne says.

According to Plan Canada, over 75 million girls globally are denied access to education simply because they are girls.

After two years of campaigning, Plan Canada succeeded to convince the United Nations to formally adopt October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child.

Craggs-Milne says the day is also important because it provides communities, individual girls and entire governments the opportunity for a platform to raise girls issues for action.

Craggs-Milne says some of the ways they help girls gain education is through scholarships, financing, conditional cash transfers and by building schools in countries such as Burkina Faso.

“One thing that we know is that it’s not enough to just create sources of money or scholarships for girls,” she says. “We really want to transform communities so that they understand the value of educating girls, and create supportive environments at home and at school for girl’s education.”

The day will also create solidarity for girls around the world, Craggs-Milne says.

“For example, here in Canada, I would love to know that Canadian girls are thinking about their privileges, but also thinking about other girls around the world that still need our support.”