October 11 marks the 10th anniversary of the creation of International Day of the Girl. On this day we not only celebrate girls and boys of the world, but we also seek to recognize their rights and draw attention to the specific problems they face.
In the past decade, significant progress has been made to improve the capabilities of girls and boys in terms of education, health and social care. However, the gender stereotypes, social norms and cultural expectations that affect this group are slowly changing. There is still a long way to go to make their voices heard, make the population aware of the challenges, invest to meet their needs, work on their empowerment and promote the development of their potential.
In Mexico, as in other parts of the world, girls tend to face more obstacles than boys. When we think of the issues facing girls, we often think of the most extreme and far-fetched cases; in girls like Malala who suffer violence because they fight for what they want. However, there are different realities in Mexico, in some of which girls continue to face discrimination, physical or psychological abuse, child labor, teenage pregnancy and even child marriage. Factors such as disability, malnutrition, lack of access to basic services, poverty, migration, loss of parents, drug trafficking and exploitation expose girls and adolescents to greater vulnerability, which has become more acute during the pandemic.
Here are some statistics about the reality of girls and boys in Mexico:
- There are about 20 million girls and adolescents
- They have achieved universal coverage of primary education
- 92.7% of girls and adolescents between 6 and 15 attend school; Upper secondary education is where the highest dropout rate is observed
- There is gender parity (1:1) in primary, middle and high school
- 9.5 million girls and adolescents live in poverty
- 29.7% of girls and adolescents spend more than 28 hours a week on housework.
- 8.7% of girls between the ages of 5 and 11 work more than 1 hour a week; 14.4% aged between 12 and 14 work until 2 p.m
- Of the working girls and adolescents, 47.9% are not paid; 44.1% of them have completed only primary education.
- Child marriage and early unions affect 4.5% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17
- 8% of women aged 15 to 19, married or in a relationship, have a husband at least 10 years older than them
- About 2.5% of adolescent girls between the ages of 12 and 17 are mothers
- Approximately 33% of adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 17 have experienced some form of sexual abuse
There are voices behind the numbers
It is important to remember that behind each of these statistics is a girl or teenager with potential for development and dreams to achieve. As an adult, it’s hard to write from a girl’s perspective (I’m sure I have a lot of bias), so I asked 10 girls between the ages of 5 and 12 in Mexico to share their vision with me.
Among these 10 girls interviewed, we see future vets, doctors, soccer players, gymnasts, artists, cooks, teachers, pilots and princesses (but from the new generation, like Elsa or Valiente). When we talked about the things they liked best about being girls, they actually mentioned things that weren’t so gender-biased (they were thinking of life stage, not gender), like being able to go to school (especially after two years with distance classes), to have time to play (because adults don’t play anymore), to be able to be themselves.
Nowadays, these girls enjoy playing with dolls and stuffed animals, dressing up, doing puzzles, reading, collecting pictures for the World Cup album, playing outdoors (games like hide and seek, infected, walking, Simon says, go to the park, …), board games (Jenga, Monopoly, Uno); practice sports (gymnastics, volleyball, basketball, soccer), do crafts (bracelets) and artistic activities (painting), or spend time with your family (walks, pillow fights, watching movies).
They indicate that they like the city they live in but would like it to be less polluted, have more parks with games and possibly even a roller coaster, more libraries for children, public pools and a beach; that there is less poverty and less traffic. As for what worries them about the future of Mexico, they mentioned that: “there is a new virus”, “that the trees or the water are running out”, “pollution”, “thefts”, “that the technology does not allow them to be healthy”. “that the rulers make bad decisions”, “that they close the schools again”.
This group of girls wants to tell adults: “don’t work so much”, “smile more”, “don’t fight and fight so much”, “stop being glued to mobile phones”, “play with them more” , “don’t just think about them”, “buy them ice cream”. Her messages to share with other girls in Mexico are: “don’t give up”, “don’t give up”, “no one limits you”, “you are just as important as the boys”, “be brave”, ” Be who they are’, ‘learn to share’, ‘don’t bother anyone for being different’ and ‘know that girls can change the world’.
To establish a International Day of the Girl This is an important step, but not enough to spark conversations and begin to make visible some of the big issues facing girls. Both schools and families can play a key role in empowering girls and adolescents to make decisions and fulfill their life plans. At the same time, we must work to transform the structures that reinforce or perpetuate gender inequalities.
The task we have today is to continue to create conditions and opportunities for girls and boys in Mexico can raise their voice and be heard, develop their full potential and achieve their dreams.
Today, let us not forget to listen to the voices of girls and boys around us.