On 19 December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 declaring 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child. The United Nations advocates that ‘adolescent girls have the right to a safe, educated and happy life, not only during these critical formative years but also as they mature into women’. Why? Because if supported effectively during adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world – as empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, and political leaders.
Still, today as we know, girls are born into countries where they are denied access to education, they may not lay sport or as young women, hold a job, drive a car, choose a partner and they are controlled and suppressed because they are girls. It is important that a School such as Strathcona considers the day thoughtfully because as a girls’ school which takes pride in the provision to its students of a high-quality educative experience and the belief in the equality of girls and women, I believe that it is our responsibility to recognise that this is not a privilege enjoyed by many girls worldwide and therefore have a responsibility to be the voice for those disadvantaged women.
Over the past twenty years, the global community has made significant progress in improving the lives of girls during early childhood. Now, in the first decade of life, they are more likely to be enrolled in primary school, receive key vaccinations, and are less likely to suffer from health and nutrition problems than in previous generations. However, serious challenges still remain. In 2014 for example, women and girls comprised sixty percent of the 781 million youth worldwide who lacked basic literacy skills. It is not that long ago that Boko Haram abducted 250 schoolgirls from Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria, sparking a worldwide campaign to ‘bring our girls home’. What is concerning is that schools, particularly girls’ schools, are the target of so many terrorist attacks in developing countries. Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s determination to receive an education meant she was shot, but she went on to promote the importance of education for girls and women in an incredibly powerful way.
Research worldwide points to literacy – reading – as one of the fundamental differences between advantage and disadvantage. Literacy levels are intrinsically linked to socio-economic status. It is clear that a girl in a developing country with even minimal education is more likely to marry later, have fewer children, access better health care and other support networks for her family. Education gives her more choices. Most of us believe that education is a right, but for many girls in the global community, it remains a privilege. I believe that it is incumbent on us in this School to speak to our students about their responsibility to use the investment in their education and to help to open the doors of opportunity for other girls who are less privileged in this country, particularly our indigenous, and beyond our shores.
The School’s Vision is: To inspire and empower young women to live courageous and purposeful lives so they can contribute to the world with wisdom, imagination, and integrity. Strathcona girls are part of a School that has high aspirations and inspiring alumnae all over the world, many of whom we know are using their education, their professional capacity, their influence and their philanthropic sensibility to improve the lives of girls and women. This inevitably strengthens communities and gives all children a chance at a better life and makes our societies more equal, compassionate and cared for.
Marise McConaghy, Principal