On Wednesday, July 25, 2012, UNiTE, the UN Secretary General’s campaign to end violence against women proclaimed that the twenty-fifth day of every month would be dubbed Orange Day and it would be used to bring attention to preventing and ending what has been dubbed ‘the Global scourge’ ‒ violence against women and girls. The UNiTE campaign felt that once a year was not sufficient to highlight this growing problem and its Global Youth Network initiates activities such as encouraging the wearing of the colour orange.
Yesterday was Orange Day and in support of the upcoming International Day of the Girl Child, which will be observed on October 11, its theme was ‘Safe Schools for Girls’. This takes cognisance of the fact that in many places in the world, girls are still being denied an education. Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head by the Taliban in her country some 11 months ago for defying their edict and attending school anyhow, has since become the poster child for education of girls. Malala survived the attack and emerged even more determined to ensure that girls attend school. A fierce advocate of education, she and other youth leaders lobbied world leaders attending the UN General Assembly in New York to find US$175 million to educate Syrian children currently displaced by the violence there. Also displaced by violence (she is being educated in England as it is not safe for her in Pakistan) she is in the process of launching a fund which will focus on investing in high quality education for girls, especially in disadvantaged communities around the world.
One hopes that once set up, the Malala Fund’s impact would be felt in places like Yemen. Earlier this month, the story of an eight-year-old Yemeni girl, who had been forced to marry a 40-year-old man and subsequently died as a result of internal bleeding on her wedding night, went viral on the internet, drawing outrage from human, women and child rights activists. A week ago, Yemeni authorities produced an eight-year-old girl bearing the same name, Rawan, and her father who proclaimed that the story was a lie as his daughter was alive and well.
Notwithstanding the fact that it is unlikely that there would only be one eight-year-old girl named Rawan in the Yemeni Republic which has a population of upwards of 23 million people, a 2006 study done by the government in that country in conjunction with UNICEF, found that 14 per cent of girls there are married before they reach the age of 15. A separate study done the previous year found that in rural areas girls are married as young as eight years old. A law which had set the minimum age for marriage at 15 was abolished in 1999 and authorities said it should be up to parents to decide at what age their children should marry. While legally, sexual intercourse is prohibited until girls reach puberty, once married, girls have no choice in the matter and little or no recourse to justice.
It goes without saying that girls who are forced to marry at 8 and under 15 years old also have no opportunity to obtain an education. This leaves them and their daughters caught up in a vicious cycle. It might be 2013 in the age of technology elsewhere in the world, but practices such as these keep women and girls a century behind.
The cases of Malala and Rawan and others like them are the extreme ones that garner publicity which eventually brings about change. Far more worrying is the situation for the multitude of girls, some right here in Guyana, being trafficked as human slaves or falling victim to paedophiles, effectively ending their education or denying it altogether.
In this country too, one must worry as well about the thousands for whom going to school is a sham. These are the children who are bypassed and ignored by an education system that focuses on those in whom a certain aptitude is recognised. So that while the top one per cent is celebrated, those at the bottom, who can barely write their names if at all are left to fall through the cracks. Orange Day should be every day for these children. Access to quality education should be available across the board. Anything less is a denial of their rights.