Oct. 9, 2020Print | PDF
As we celebrate International Day of the Girl on October 11, now is a critical time to reflect on how the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted young women around the world and how we can correct the inequities that have led to this.
According to the United Nations, 90 per cent of the world’s student population was out of school by the end of March 2020 because of the pandemic. Past epidemics have demonstrated that young women and girls are at significantly greater risk of never returning to school even after a health crisis subsides. Additionally, school closures and reduced social supports put young women and girls at increased risk for domestic violence. The impact of the pandemic can be even greater on racialized women and girls, and those in sexual and gender minority populations due to the types of jobs these groups typically occupy and the barriers they face accessing health care.
Within our own country, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has stated there is a serious risk that the pandemic could erase gains that have been made toward gender equality in Canada as women drop out of the workforce to care for children and loved ones.
This year’s theme for International Day of the Girl is My Voice, Our Equal Future. It is a day to reaffirm our commitment to support the aspirations of young women in leadership and in effecting social change. It is a day to give them platforms to share their concerns and ideas for a better future – a future that is fair, just, and equitable.
Over the last three years, as president of Wilfrid Laurier University, I have been fortunate to take an active role in International Day of the Girl and in elevating the voices of young women. In 2019 and 2017, I hosted two high school students to become Laurier’s ‘president for a day’ to get a firsthand look at leading a university. In 2018, I hosted a leadership roundtable with high school students to discuss the importance of mentors and mentorship.
While the pandemic has limited the opportunities for in-person connections this year, Laurier’s staff, faculty, students, and alumni continue to support young women and girls in our communities in various ways. This work happening at Laurier is part of our commitment to building thriving communities that prepare people for the challenges of the future.
On International Day of the Girl, we have a unique opportunity to listen to the concerns of young women and elevate their voices. We need to not only remind girls that they belong in positions of leadership, but also break down the barriers that have traditionally prevented them from holding powerful roles in government, organizations and business.
Rebuilding and recovering from the pandemic will require the work and input of everyone. The world has changed dramatically in six months and moving forward, we need fresh perspectives to reimagine how we live, work, and learn. There is no better time than now to listen to young women and support their aspirations.
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