Antigua and Barbuda joins the rest of the world today in celebration of International Day of the Girl Child under the theme “With Her: A Skilled Girl Force”. As we take a stand with girls to ensure that they are empowered, skilled, and inspired to realize their true potential, we must address the barriers that could cripple their progress.

As a nation, while we have made many strides to ensure girls’ access to education and training, and to address the gender stereotypes, and social norms that persist in our society, we still have a long way to go.

According to UN Women, “across the world, girls face adversities that hinder their education, training and entry into the workforce.” In Antigua and Barbuda, teenage pregnancy, child abuse, sexual abuse, and exploitation continue to affect our children particularly the girl child. On this day, we must recommit ourselves to promote safe, healthy and violence-free lives for our girls. There is need for greater partnerships between our local actors; our police, social services, prosecutors and medical professionals and civil society organizations alike to ensure concerted efforts to protect our most vulnerable, particularly our girls. The government is committed to ensuring that no one is left behind, as the Minister responsible for Social Transformation, I urge our communities, families, churches, schools and neighbours to join forces to prevent any exploitation or neglect of children.

If we are to protect and promote the interest of the girl child we must first commit to making both a personal and collective effort to advocate for their most pressing needs. Government, private sector, and community-based organisations must continue to seek new ways to pool our resources and collaborate on initiatives that will inspire new ways of thinking that are beyond the traditional gender stereotypes and biases that can result in abuse and other forms of discrimination against the girl child.

Further, we must begin to create platforms that give girls a space to speak their truth, and shape the future that they want. Our young people must be given a voice and an opportunity to contribute to decision-making processes on issues that affect their lives.

Modern technology and the “digital age” has opened up a world of new career opportunities in STEM fields, marketing, and the arts. Girls today literally have the world at their fingertips with the evolution of mobile phones and social media. While online spaces can create avenues for social interaction and emerging career opportunities, they can also become spaces where girls are constantly confronted with unattainable beauty standards, where they are discriminated against, harassed, and lured into abusive situations.

It is only by listening to girls and allowing them to share their experiences, without judgement, that we can empower them to make sound decisions about their careers, their safety, and their lives. It is only by hearing what their interests are that we can encourage girls to pursue them. It is only by letting them tell us what their needs are that we can provide the resources and guidance to help our girl children reach their fullest potential.

On this International Day of the Girl Child I urge us all to rally around our girls across Antigua & Barbuda, let us stand with our girls. Our actions today, will determine their future. Let us support their dreams, their visions, and their goals. Today is a day for us to affirm them and to commit to creating a society where each and every girl feels protected, valued, and where she has the necessary resources and support to follow her dreams.

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