According UN data, 1.1 billion girls are on the verge of discovering their future, one that will either bring progress or perpetuate discrimination against them. Although not all of them are experiencing the same reality, the vast majority can be said to be suffering from gender discrimination in one way or another.
Depending on the part of the world, some will be employed as cheap labor, carry out domestic tasks, and attempt to get an education; and others will live with models of sexualization and adulteration of childhood characteristic of trivialized liquid societies (Bauman, 2017), where they will carry out the same tasks but as a game. They do this with a single aim: not let society down vis-à-vis the role that it assigned them for the future.
So, why should we talk about girls’ day when there’s already a women’s day? Because a woman who demands her place in society is already late to the party, she’s already living her future as a dominated being, to borrow Bourdieu’s terms (1998). In the best case scenario, these women will be able to improve their conditions within society, but girls will forge their lives based on achievement, which will allow them to become agents of social change. That is thanks to the fact that the improvements that they enact will benefit the community as a whole.
The fact that institutions are aware of the importance of empowering women and girls as well as achieving gender equality (Sustainable Development Goal 5) helps, but is not enough. In most cases, each of these claims is made within the context of non-binding international organizations, which at times can be at odds with the nation-state’s interests. These states resist change, as they do not wish to disturb the status quo, the state of affairs that has previously been determined to be valid. In other words, it does not seem to be in any country’s DNA that women – as girls – are individuals with full rights, as was asserted back in 1792 by Mary Wollstonecraft in her work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
Moreover, the rise of far-right populist parties in Europe, which reject gender ideology and are backed by a significant number of citizens, has woken us up to the long path ahead.
So, while in countries like Niger, Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan, the Republic of the Congo, etc., girls and women fight to gain the rights guaranteed to them in Europe, European women must fight to ensure their rights are not violated. This is a clear example that women and girls do not actually have effective long-lasting rights guaranteed to them anywhere in the world.
So, the response to the question of why gender stereotypes continue to exist is evident: because those in power benefit from perpetuating the patriarchal model, using stereotypes as one of the vehicles to do so, while these stereotypes are intimately linked to discrimination and prejudice. Eliminating stereotypes, of course, necessitates the construction of other societal models: just, egalitarian, and equal. It means considering templates that are far from hetero-patriarchal and working on new forms of masculinity.
However, this change inevitably requires a response from civil society. It must not only demand change, but also be an agent of that change, since every day each and every one of us participates in the invisible and symbolic violence that perpetuates those stereotypes.
Consider an example: Is it not common for boys to laugh at girls at school when they have their periods, their pad slips, their tampon falls out, or their clothes have period stains? Is it not true that, as adults, our friends and family members continue to blame our reactions or any claims made contrary to those expected of us on a bad day caused by our periods? Perhaps you are smirking right now at the thought arising in your mind, “it’s not that big of a deal!” But it actually is. On September 6, 2019 in the Bomet region of Kenya, a 14-year-old girl decided to commit suicide because her teacher publicly ridiculed her for having stained her clothes with period blood after she had gotten her first period and didn’t have any pads. In an interview with the Daily Nation, her mother Beatriz Koech said that the teacher called her dirty in front of all of her classmates and threw her out of class. The girl then decided to kill herself. Perhaps you’re now more aware of the violence pent up in this kind of act against women.
That’s why the elimination of invisible violence by disavowing participation in such acts is as necessary as creating spaces to reflect and work within the educational sphere, paying close attention to multi-disciplinary education in school and at home, and instructing business owners on maternity, paternity, and work-life balance.
We cannot allow societies to stigmatize girls for purely biological matters that allow for the perpetuation of the species, nor for their educations to be forever burdened by teaching them from the very beginning that they are different from boys or that they are predestined to find their soul mate.
The empowerment of girls, the women of the future, arises out of teaching them to be individuals regardless of their gender, to be free thinkers with equal opportunities to get involved in the social, cultural, political, and economic sphere. This must be done in a way that is removed from the alleged conditioning factors characteristic to their gender, which are no more than toxic and discriminatory social constructs.
Women also have to participate in this change. We need to ensure that the rights we’ve already acquired are maintained, fight for progress, and expand these rights to other regions and women in other parts of the world, who are quite reachable thanks to globalization. We must avoid giving jobs that we, as women from developed countries, are unwilling to do to women from poorer societies who have immigrated to our countries. We must avoid seeing them only as caretakers for the elderly and children or as domestic assistants. Because if we allow this to occur we will be the ones dominating the dominated, perpetuating the patriarchal model.
Bauman, Z. (2017). La cultura en el mundo de la modernidad liquida (Culture in a Liquid Modern World). Madrid: Fondo de Cultura Económica
Bourdieu, P. (1998). La dominación masculina (La domination masculine). Barcelona: Anagrama.
UN (2019). International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October. Extract in November 2019 from: https://www.un.org/es/events/girlchild/
Wollstonecraft, M. (2018). Vindicación de los derechos de la mujer (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman). Madrid: Cátedra.