October 11th is International Day of the Girl Child -
- though many reference it simply as International Day of the Girl. A dear friend and colleague of mine recently shared a link to an article discussing what the author considered to be the problematic or unnecessary use of the word "child" coupled with "girl" within the international development community. In the article, the author, Brendan Rigby, argues that we should drop the word "child" from the general discourse around girls and girls' rights, for reasons ranging from the fact that it is a "compound noun" (oh the grammatical horror!) to the (incorrect) assumption that it is simply unnecessary. Brendan also openly states that he doesn't really understand why the word "child" was ever included in the phrase to begin with, and that it might even be discriminatory against boys. (Ahem)
To this point, he writes:
"Although this might be a ship too far, is the term “girl child” not a form of discrimination? Boys will be boys, apparently. There is no “boy child.” We do not need to be reminded that boys are children, but for some reason, we are reminded that girls are children."
"The language used in international conventions and declarations is hard won and hotly contested. There must have been drafters of the Beijing Declaration who questioned the use of the term “girl child” and “girl children.” However, it slipped trough the cracks. What was the aversion to using “girl” and “girls”? What was the frame of reference?
My best guess is the powers that be wanted to avoid any baggage that came with girl/girls. “Girl” can be used offensively and refer to women. “Cry like a girl,” “Don’t be such a girl,” “Hey, girly,” “Working girl.” But, then so too can “boy” be offensive and dismissive. The film My Girl would have been quite different if it was called My Girl Child or HBO’s Girls was called Girl Children."
I am not quite sure how much experience or insight this particular author has to offer in terms of a meaningful understanding of the issues girls face at different points in their development; judging from the general ignorance on display in this article, I would guess he doesn't have much insight at all, unfortunately. So let's break it down, shall we?
The author rightly points out that the "language used in international conventions and declarations is hard won and hotly contested". Yet he still seems totally unconvinced that the word "child" needs to be there at all, despite the fact that it likely would have been debated by numerous (actual) experts in the field before being included in the Beijing Declaration, which I guess we can say probably implies it is pretty darn important. He also seems willfully oblivious to the fact that there is likely a host of very good reasons for the use of the word "child" in conjunction with "girl" for these specific purposes. In fact, he's so put out by this situation that he's even started a petition to remove the word "child" from the official discourse around girls and their rights. Let's not even get into his misguided attempts at *guessing* the various reasons why "child" has to accompany "girl" in this context - I just don't have the patience.
Yes, girls are children - but not to everyone.
In the eyes of those around them, and in much of their lived reality, girls often exist in a nebulous space between being a child and being an adult woman. In developing countries, many girls are treated as if they are women, they are given the burdens and responsibilities of adult women, from an age as young as 10. This is not the case with boys. Boys are allowed much greater freedom in all aspects of life, while girls are often considered to be women as soon as they get their first period, and even before that often bear responsibilities similar to adult women. In a developing country context especially, girls are hugely disadvantaged because of gender discrimination, facing a massive onslaught of barriers and challenges that are simply not comparable to the situation of boys, including high rates of rape, sexual violence, denial of rights, teen pregnancy and HIV - just to name a few. During puberty, as girls begin to grow breasts and their bodies develop, they are seen and treated differently, and are victimized and exploited at higher rates for different reasons, including sexual violence and human trafficking, even though they are, in fact, still children.
The author also references child brides in his attempts to try to suss out why we keep saying "child" when we talk about girls, further writing:
"One Twitter user suggests that it is a link to child marriage; to make clear that child brides are not women upon marriage. I can see the logic here, but the majority of the world’s girls are not child brides."
Okay. The "majority" of girls around the world are not child brides - but 15 million of them are. 15 million. That's one child being married off every two seconds. That is 28 girls a minute. Is that not high enough of a number to warrant the use of the word "child" as a way of putting greater emphasis on the fact that these cases and situations need to be addressed as violations of CHILD rights and prevented? Maybe not in the mind of the author. For me, that's more than enough. Beyond that, however, even if this were the only reason to reference "child" in these discussions, it's completely missing the point, because the whole movement to end child marriage is not based on ensuring husbands and families know that their child brides are not "women upon marriage" - it's ensuring that (GIRL) CHILDREN ARE NOT GETTING MARRIED IN THE FIRST PLACE. Sorry (not sorry) for the all caps.
Given all of the above, the reason we say "child" and the reason it is important to continue saying child is to drive home the idea that GIRLS ARE CHILDREN, because it is necessary to do so, because girl children do not face even close to the same issues that boy children face, specifically in the context of being able to simply be a child, to grow, learn, explore, develop and build friendships - but more than that, it is to keep this concept and understanding at the forefront of everyone's mind in every discussion we have about girls.
Back to Brendan's point - "We do not need to be reminded that boys are children, but for some reason, we are reminded that girls are children." Yes, in fact we do need to be reminded that girls are children. Because many people do not see them as such, do not treat them as such. Because we have heaps of evidence that continually demonstrates that girls face unique challenges just because they are girls, even though they are children, and because girls are not afforded the same freedoms of childhood that boys are, even though they are children, especially in the most vulnerable of situations.