11 October, the International Day of the Girl Child declared by the UN. According to a UN report, over 130 million girls are still out of school, which means that there are over 130 million potential engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers and politicians whose leadership the world is missing out on.
The global picture get gloomier if we look at the stats from the toughest countries for girls to access basic education. In South Sudan, where violence and war destroyed schools and families were forced from their homes, almost three-quarters of girls do not even make it to primary school. In Niger, only 17% of women between the ages of 15 and 24 are literate. In Burkina Faso, only 1% of girls complete secondary school and in Ethiopia two in five girls are married before the age of 18.
A full untapped and unvalued potential. Yet, history shows how some women played determinant roles thanks to their untapped potential.
Just think of Elizebeth Friedman. This name won’t be of much significance to many, but this woman was responsible for breaking numbers of enemy codes during the First and Second World War. So did Joan Clarke, Mavis Batey and Margaret Rock, who worked with Alan Turing in Bletchley Park, where the English managed to break the German impenetrable Enigma machine. Those women put their abilities at the service of their country and significantly shortened a devastating war.
The International Day of the Girl Child falls the day after the memorial day of Ada Lovelace, who is considered to be the first computer programmer in the world. Ada, the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron, is chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. She was the first to recognise that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, and created the first algorithm to generate Bernoulli’s numbers intended to be carried out by such a machine.
The role of women in the Western society is far more relevant than in the past, still the parity between boys and girls is not fully realised. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of the book Lean In, said that if a boy is bossy he is a leader, whereas if a little girl behaves the same should not be told to calm down, rather that she has strong leadership skills. Still today, only a minority of girls are in STEMS (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
We should encourage girls, just like we do with boys, to follow their passion, whatever that might be. And remember in this day that literacy in the world is not adequate to the growth standard we need. Shall we commit in exploring this potential or leave it untapped?