This blog post was written by Grace Millar, Girl Programs Coordinator at the Women’s Centre.
Since 2012, October 11 has been celebrated as the International Day of the Girl. The day marked by the United Nations to “highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.”
For some of us, the memory of being a young girl is fresh, while for others it may feel like a lifetime ago. What it means to “be a girl” is forever evolving. I remember being a young girl bringing home advertising catalogs in elementary school, rummaging through the pages until I found the toy section in the back. The adverts would have young boys holding microscopes and magnifying glasses, and girls would be making bracelets or writing love notes in diaries. Ads like those I saw growing up are a part of a society that enforces gender stereotypes – in this case, that boys are interested in science and intellectual activities, while girls want to play with their hair and fantasize about relationships. The unfortunate reality is many girls grow up believing that they should value material possessions, find “prince charming,” and never get to discover their own complex personalities or explore what else a fulfilling life can offer.
Being a girl is so much more than what the ad catalogs ever showed. Girls today are taking more initiative in education, activism and politics than ever before. Girls are exceeding society’s expectations and are breaking free from stereotypes that have for so long held them back.
It is no accident that the goals of the Women’s Centre’s Girl Programs are similar to sentiments of the creators of the Day of the Girl. Our Girl Programs are aimed at empowering young girls to see themselves as leaders, and help girls build their confidence and find their voice – skills that are often vital in the amazing work girls are doing to combat stereotypes about what it means to be a girl in our society.
Working with the Women’s Centre’s Girl Programs this year, I have the privilege of seeing how girls are tenacious and formidable. Girls led discussions on the dress codes at their schools, talking about the double-standard of clothing and sexism that exists within the fashion world. Girls created action projects about the stigma around menstruation and youth, using pads and tampons as their art medium.
The girls in our Girls Programs encourage each other to think critically about social constructs and speak up for themselves and others. Girls are advocating for themselves and are infiltrating the systems of oppression by taking down gendered social constructs. Today we celebrate that being a girl means to be intelligent and courageous, and most of all we celebrate that being a girl means being a part of changing the world!