Making Day of the Girl Matter

From left: Dandio Coulibaly and Eliana Stanislawski representing Day of the Girl-US at the Montgomery County proclamation of the Day of the Girl in 2011.

What is the purpose of a commemorative day? That's the question I was struggling with in the tenth grade, when the idea of initiating a national Day of the Girl campaign was brought up at a club meeting for my high school's School Girls Unite chapter. As a group of students and young women leaders dedicated to gender equality, we launched into this project head first, encouraging girls across the country to proclaim the Day of the Girl in their communities. All the while I could not help but worry about pouring time, passion and energy into a project that might not have a meaningful, measurable outcome.

Four years later, I'm in charge of the Day of the Girl-US Action Team and our 100% youth-led movement for gender equality. In 2011, the United Nations declared the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11th, in 2012 we saw nearly 100 local and state proclamations across the United States, and in 2013 the White House released a Presidential Proclamation of the Day of the Girl.

Celebrations are taking place all over the world, with groups of every size pitching in to help make a difference. It is inspiring how communities around the world have united behind the idea of a commemorative day dedicated to advancing girls' lives and opportunities. But it is not enough.

Awareness is fantastic, but actions speak louder than words. Giving people a date around which to mobilize creates an opportunity. The momentum that comes from a day like the Day of the Girl has such amazing potential that is desperately needed today. Just last week, Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for being an activist who makes and pursues specific demands, rather than only raising awareness. She has her objectives and is resolute in her work to achieve them. Activists all over the world admire Malala for a reason: in the face of every obstacle she has marched on because she is wholly devoted to ensuring that every girl receives an education and to battling extremism, no matter the costs.

It is easy to show that you care. But this Day must be a push to do something more.

Acknowledgment and celebration are vital components of fighting for equality, however they are not the final components whatsoever. We cannot celebrate a victory that has yet to materialize. We've made great strides, but we are nowhere near finished. Lobbying government officials, starting an activist group on campus, writing letters to people in power positions, staging interventions in situations of gender inequality, planning presentations for your workplace or school and volunteering for a girl-related cause are a few of many ways that you can make your October 11th count. On Saturday in Bowie, Maryland, young activists from Zelophehad's Daughters, Inc. are running a Day of the Girl-US supported anti-trafficking rally that includes learning from local elected officials, watching local performers and spoken word artists, and small group workshops led by girls. This type of interactive, youth-led experience is what the Day of the Girl is all about.

This is a fight that cannot be fought alone. People of every gender identity must understand the realities girls face and join the movement for equality. This means more than just posting a #HeForShe photo on Twitter. For too long the pressure has fallen solely on girls and women to contest gender-based discrimination, despite the detrimental effects it has on every person. We can do it, we have been doing it and we are really great at doing it, but we'll never fully achieve our objectives if everyone isn't on board. Girls are already amazing, brilliant and highly capable. We just need society to show us they understand that.

Day of the Girl is about reminding girls of their significance but it is also about demonstrating to the world the way girls deserve to be treated every day. There is not a Day of the Boy/Man/Patriarchy for a reason, that reason being that the other 364 days of the year are pretty much just that.

Advancing girls' lives is not about changing girls, it is about changing the patriarchal forces that consume and abuse them. Girls deserve a bigger part of the world. A Day of the Girl is a start.

Ultimately, October 11th is just a day -- a commemorative day that girls around the world have worked tirelessly over the years to make a reality, but one day all the same. It is on us to show the world how we are going to use it.