Celebrating International Day of the Girl

For the fifth year, people around the world are celebrating International Day of the Girl — a movement spearheaded by the UN to empower and provide better lives for girls.

Movement to raise awareness about gender equality gives girls the chance to step into leadership roles

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, centre, stands with girls representing G(irls)20, FitSpirit, and Plan International Canada after opening the Toronto Stock Exchange Tuesday to celebrate International Day of the Girl. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Offices around the world got an infusion of girl power Tuesday — opening their doors to let young women step into many of the leadership roles typically held by men.

The move was part of the UN's annual International Day of the Girl celebrations held on Oct. 11 with the goal of raising awareness about gender equality and challenges facing girls around the world — particularly during adolescence. 

"When a girl gets the right start in life, her potential is limitless; when a girl grows up knowing that she can follow her dreams, her dreams get bigger," says Canada's Status of Women page.

That is the sentiment behind this year's theme: "girls' progress = goals' progress: what counts for girls." The focus for the next 12 months will be collecting data to improve programs and services for girls in developing countries.

According to the UN, current information gaps make it challenging to accommodate specific needs around health, safety, education and human rights.

Actress and UN goodwill ambassador Emma Watson, centre, visited Mtakataka Secondary School in the District of Dedza, Malawi, where she heard from Stella Kalilombe and Cecilia Banda, whose marriages were annulled, allowing them to return to school. (Karin Schermbrucker/UN Women)

Progress has been made in ensuring girls under 10 attend school and receive proper nutrition and vaccinations. But when they become teenagers, many drop out of school and are forced into marriage, because their families can no longer support them.

In addition, the risk of becoming pregnant, getting a sexually transmitted infection, or being subjected to gender-based violence increases.

Available information released by UNICEF this week, says that girls aged five to 14 spend 550 million hours a day on household tasks, with one girl under the age of 15 married every seven seconds. Girls also account for two-thirds of the world's illiterate.

Actress and UN goodwill ambassador Emma Watson and senior chief Inkosi Kachindamoto, centre, are welcomed by the girls at Mtakataka Secondary School in Malawi where she heard from girls whose child marriages had been annulled, allowing them to return to school. (Karin Schermbrucker/UN Women)

On Monday, UN goodwill ambassador Emma Watson travelled to Malawi to recognize efforts made by that country to end child marriage. A year ago, the government passed a law forbidding marriage until the age of 18, and since then many women have been able to annul their marriages and return to school. Previously, Malawi had one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with half of girls married before they turned 18. 

Watson said meeting the women whose lives have changed because of the law, made her realize the power of choice.

"Meeting with young girls, who like many in their country are struggling with poverty and were pressured into early marriage, depriving them of their education in the process, made me realize how important it is for women to be able to make their own choices," she said.

"It's so encouraging to see how such a harmful practice can be stopped when communities work together to pass laws and turn those laws into reality."

Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena, left, chats with Colombian teenager Yadis, 15, who was playing the role of mayor for a few hours on International Day of the Girl, in the Spanish capital on Oct. 11, 2016. (Javier Liz/EPA)

Elsewhere in the world, over 250 girls will participate in the historic #GirlsTakeover program which will see young people from 50 countries stepping into the positions of social, political and economic leaders for the day. This will see girls take charge at places such as Nickelodeon, MSNBC and the Canadian government.

In Ottawa, a group of girls took over over Parliament Hill and were to spend the day working with federal ministers and in the Status of Women department. Girls were also scheduled to also replace the president of Nepal and the UN's director general. 

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau demonstrated her solidarity with the movement Tuesday morning by opening the Toronto Stock Exchange. In a Twitter video, the prime minister's wife said the event was meant to show girls they belong in places like the trading floor.

"Women and girls belong in the seats of classrooms, boardrooms, senate chambers, courtrooms, press rooms and corner offices," she said. "They belong on the playing field, behind the camera and in science and research. Girls belong here and everywhere else decisions are made."

Grégoire Trudeau collaborated with three charitable organizations for the event: G(irls)20, Plan International Canada and FitSpirit.

Gender equality is No. 5 on the UN's list of sustainable development goals to be implemented over the next 15 years.

With files from The Canadian Press