During this week, we have been celebrating the European Week of Action for Girls and today is the International Day of the Girl Child. Girls just like you have a lot to offer to make life better for your communities, for your countries and for the world. But being a girl can also be hard. Sometimes you are not treated as fairly as boys are. I want to help change that.
So ever since I became European Commissioner, I have been working hard to make sure that every girl, wherever she lives, is free to be whoever she wants to be.
I want to ensure that all the action the European Union takes will help you get the best possible start in life and then make the most of the opportunities life brings your way. That is why we focus on your education, economic potential, your health and your rights as a woman. And it is why we must protect you from harm.
Our joint Spotlight Initiative with the United Nations seeks to end violence against women and girls. Some famous figures are supporting Spotlight – like Siya Kolisi, captain of the South African rugby team, who wants to get men and boys, your fathers and brothers, involved in it, too.
But you do not have to be famous to make a difference. In Burkina Faso, I visited a school that is part of one of our projects to promote dialogue within the community. I was amazed at how young people are coming together to understand and accept ethnic and religious differences, not fight over them. I learned a lot from seeing this in action.
And at a refugee settlement in Kenya I met Abol Malueth, one of many refugee girls who live and go to school in the settlement. She read me a great poem she had written herself. Part of it goes: “I dance in joy. Our dreams scatter, our futures tatter, but still we rise.” Abol and her friends are a shining example of energy and hope in very difficult circumstances, and I salute them.
I believe that if we listen to you girls more, and bring your energy and hope into our work, we really can change the world for the better – and faster.
I remember how proud I was when, in the year 2000, Tarja Halonen became the first ever woman president of my home country, Finland. That was a really important step for our country. Suddenly, thousands of Finnish girls realised that one day they could become president as well. As a young politician at the time, it gave me more confidence, too. A few years later, I became the first woman to lead my political party.
And today, it is great to see more and more women and girls with the confidence to speak out on issues that really matter to them – and to us. Young women like Jaha Dukureh, from The Gambia, who survived female genital mutilation and was forced into child marriage when she was just 15.
Jaha now runs the “Safe Hands for Girls” organisation. It provides support to African girls and women who, like her, have survived female genital mutilation. She was part of a campaign led by young people and women to get female genital mutilation banned in The Gambia.
Jaha helped change a country’s policy and save lives. That was already a huge achievement. Yet she has not stopped there. She is now working with the United Nations to end female genital mutilation and child marriage across Africa.
Jaha shows how girls and women can achieve anything when they have the chance. You could be the next Jaha.
But most importantly, you must be whoever you want to be. The choice is yours!