Century of the Girl Child

"The ways of injuring a child are infinite, while the ways of being useful to them are few... the slightest mistrust, the smallest unkindness, the least act of injustice or contemptuous ridicule, leave wounds that last for life in the finely strung soul of the child..."

In 1900 social theorist Ellen Key published her prescient manifesto on the future of childhood; Key recognized the importance of centering the child, not just privately but also publicly; within education, care provisions and society more broadly.

If the 20th century was the century of the child -- with the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child by the League of Nations in 1924 as both the crescendo of contemporary thought and the starting point for all future debate and actions, including granting permanent status to UNICEF in 1953 and adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 -- then the 21st century must be the century of the international girl child. There is no denying that given the current state of the world's girls, we would be forgiven for being dubious of such a statement.

A report on Girls Education published by Plan International in 2012 showed that only 74 percent of the world's girls aged between 11 and 15 are in education, compared to 83 percent of boys. Even more worryingly, though there is variation from country to country, where girls aged 10-14 are not in education large proportions -- over 80 percent in Nigeria -- will never have entered formal education. In fact the report suggests that in rural parts of Nigeria a girl can expect to receive less than three years of formal education, rising to 6 years for the same wealth class in urban areas. It is a tragic truth that household income also plays a big part in accessing education and I am an active supporter of the work being done by Sarah and Gordon Brown with the Global Business Coalition for Education to campaign for universal access to education.

However, this is the century in which a young girl defied threats to her education, survived an attempt on her life and became a global advocate for girls' education, inspiring adults and children the world over. Malala Yousafzai is an inspiration to millions.

This the century that brought us Lean In, the SPARK Movement, the Girl Effect and Girls Who Code.

This is the century that has seen women such as Angela Ahrendts, Arianna Huffington, Marissa Mayers and Sheryl Sandberg blaze into the spotlight and raise the global profile of career women.

This is the century that launched the first ever Girl Summit.

Held in London recently, the Summit programme was filled with influential speakers including Malala Yousafzai, Dr Jaldesa Guyo, Saria Khalifa and Anthony Lake and hosted by UK Home Secretary Theresa May MP and Secretary for International Development Justine Greening MP. As a recent signatory of the Girl Declaration following the panel I hosted in Lagos titled 'Our Future: This is the moment to invest in girls', I am deeply committed to ensuring the safe and successful, happy and healthy future of the girl child. Global migration has turned issues such as FGM and child marriage into international concerns and assaults upon the education of the girl child, upon her mental and physical health and upon her fundamental rights are a daily occurrence.

The commitments made by governments, NGOs and the private sector following the Girl Summit 2014 show that this is a matter now being taken seriously by the international community. There are many ways to bring about change and it is encouraging to see that everyone has recognized that they are able to play a part. From nations pledging millions of dollars worth of funding towards ending FGM and child marriage, to individuals promising to use their personal social media profiles to advocate against these issues, everyone can do something to create change.

Together with the Wellbeing Foundation Africa I have always taken the opportunity to centre and promote the interests of the girl child through advocacy, partnerships and program and WBFA has committed to renewing its focus on the importance of girls and the emancipation of girls, including the protection of girls from forced, early and child marriage and FGM, both in our advocacy, communications, and policy reviews and in the fields of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and ending domestic violence.

As well as undertaking extensive advocacy projects regarding child rights including establishing the Kwara State Child Rights Implementation Committee and the Child Protection Network, WBFA has long advocated that as legal guardians by marriage, husbands should pledge to continue supporting the education of their wives. An educated woman is in a better position to ensure a healthy and productive family and interventions such as donating a crèche to the University of Ilorin for the children of students helps support this.

For WBFA and myself, the Girl Declaration is a positive affirmation of intentions for international action, and we welcome news such as the recent UK legislation outlawing FGM, hoping that other Governments will do the same. We further hope that governments will recognize the benefits of integrating the work of social workers and health care providers such as midwives, as these are often ideally placed to identify victims of FGM and offer psychosocial support.

The battle against FGM, child marriage and its attendant detrimental determinants, is a journey to bring culture and tradition up to date with modern verified evidence. WBFA has often said that every pregnancy, every newborn, is a fresh chance to do the right thing, and 'get it right' for girls. The 21st century is the century of the girl child; the 21st century is our chance to get it right.