Op-Ed: International Day of the Girl

CdA Lisa Johnson

“From Asia to Europe, from Africa to the Americas, nations that have embraced the ideas of equality and inclusion have emerged more stable, peaceful, and prosperous.  When countries empower girls to pursue their dreams, they not only fulfill a basic moral obligation, they also realize more fully their social and economic potential.”

These words ring as true today as they did a year ago when President Barack Obama used them to begin the first ever Presidential Proclamation on the International Day of the Girl.  Designated by the United Nations just two years ago, the International Day of the Girl is intended to raise awareness about issues of gender inequality around the world.  It is a day when governments, activists, parents, teachers, students, and others, both young and old, men and women, come together under the same goal to ensure that girls – too often undervalued or ignored – have equal access to education and health care, and are fully engaged in the social, political, and economic fabrics of their societies.

President Obama’s words above are borne out not just by experience, but by empirical fact.  A team of researchers led by Professor Valerie Hudson of Texas A&M University found in 2012 that the best single predictor for the stability and peacefulness of a country was not economic prosperity, level of democracy, or ethnic and religious identity, but rather how well the women of that country are treated.  Hudson’s research, detailed in her book Sex and World Peace, suggests that large gender gaps between the treatment of men and women in a society also have negative influences on economic growth, corruption, social welfare, and the level of violence.  She concludes that “what happens to women affects the security, stability, prosperity, bellicosity, corruption, health, regime type, and (yes) the power of the state.”

At this critical time, we must ensure that girls of The Bahamas, the United States, and the world are valued equally and have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.  We know that investing in our girls is a force multiplier and can be a powerful catalyst for international development.  This includes equal access to education and preventing and responding to gender-based violence, both key priorities for the U.S. Embassy and for the United States.

We salute the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas for its recent efforts to promote gender equality in The Bahamas, including the forthcoming referendum to provide a constitutional foundation for equality between women and men, girls and boys.  Like many here, we believe this is critical to the future well-being of The Bahamas.

Additionally, we applaud Minister of Social Services and Community Development Melanie Griffin’s announcement that the Ministry of Social Services’ Women’s Bureau will create and implement a training program for young women interested in entering Bahamian politics, a tremendous step toward eliminating barriers that prevent women’s full participation in the political life of The Bahamas.  Programs such as this are essential for preparing young women for a more prominent role in the leadership and governance of The Bahamas.

As President Obama has said, somewhere there is a girl who will grow to spark the next great scientific revolution if she is a given a shot at a higher education.  Somewhere, there is a girl who will one day lead her nation if she is afforded the chance to choose her own destiny.  Somewhere, there are girls who will go on to change the world in ways we can only imagine if they are allowed the freedom to dream.  As we celebrate the International Day of the Girl with our partners across the globe, let us consider how we can work together to ensure that all of our young people – both girls and boys – have equal opportunities to contribute to our societies, and to build brighter futures for themselves, their families, and their countries.