On Day of the Girl, Critical Look At Hypersexualization

In developing nations, child birth is the largest cause of death among girls who are between 15 to 19 years of age. Forced child marriages are one of the biggest concerns emerging from these societies. An estimated 10 million girls are married before they reach 18 every year. They struggle with lack of access to education, health care and are at greater risks of being victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation by families and communitites

Today is the the first International Day of the Girl Child, reminding us of the struggles that young women face on a daily basis. They fight against poverty, gender-based violence violence, cultural and religious biases and many other issues in war-torn societies.

The battle wages on in unequal political and cultural systems for basic needs. Their voices may not be heard or understood, especially if they are exploited by their own governments and political bodies. It is imperative that the world work to better the opportunities for girls.

Focusing on girls education is the best return in social investment. It shatters stereotypes, creates a sense of confidence in a community, and reduces victimization and oppression of people.

Recognizing October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child is an important first step. But we must not forget the struggles that girls in North America and Europe also face.

There is abuse, neglect and many are troubled with mental health issues as their rates of depression are much higher than teenage boys.

They compete in industries for employment where pay grades and opportunities for advancement are highly unequal. As much as 70% of online bullying is aimed at young girls. They are also bombarded with hyper-sexualized images of women on t.v. and in magazines.

Localizing the fight to empower girls is a necessary step.

In celebrating and rallying for rights of girls around the world, we continue to harness sexism and misogyny at home. While girls in developing nations are struggling to survive, the sexualization is just as dangerous.

Teaching young girls that their self-esteem is correlated with their appearance is unjust. Media bombards young girls with images of "beauty" without emphasizing the importance of fostering character, intelligence and social involvement.

Fashion advertising is an example of how girls are expected to conform to society's ideals of beauty which are usually non-inclusive of the total population.

In 2009 the American Psychological Association released a report stating "Sexualization (of young girls) has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality, and attitudes and beliefs".

The study maintains that the more girls are exposed to hypersexualization, the societal effects result in an increase in sexism; fewer girls pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There are increased rates of sexual harassment and sexualized violence as well as a higher demand for child pornography.
To subject girls to marketing and media of this nature is only detrimental to the potential success of a community.

Girls are encouraged to be strong individuals and unique, but their screens and magazines are flooded with sexist portrayals of how they are represented - albeit an inaccurate image.

Our own communities rally to speak up about causes abroad of girls access to education, safety and basic human rights. It is important to note that the girls in our own backyards need fostering and support. Particularly if we are to offer solutions to others.

Empowerment of girls and women goes far beyond clean water, health care and voting rights. It is the also about the right to be respected, be informed, make choices and be presented with fair options.

As the world celebrates International Day of the Girl and recognizes the importance of solidarity for the protection and empowerment of girls, we must note that the North American society is very guilty of propelling sexism in its own mindsets. 

It will be important to note whether the North American community pays attention to International Day of the Girl Child and applies it in a broader context or ignores it as a problem of "Third World Countries".

It is imperative for our communities that initiatives be local and global to ensure that many young women are provided with an opportunity to thrive in their environments.

All girls deserve the right to be empowered and respected.

                                Shireen Ahmed

Shireen Ahmed is a frontline worker in Social Services, writer and footballer living in Toronto.