Caroline Riseboro, Plan International Canada's new President and CEO.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have never been shy about speaking up for the rights of girls and women. And today, as I mark my first International Women's Day as President and CEO of Plan International Canada, I'm raising my voice -- and urging others to do the same -- so together we can take action on gender inequality.
International Women's Day is a time to celebrate the social, economic and political achievements of women around the world. It's also a time to recognize how far we still have to go -- and what we need to do to get there. As a woman and as someone who has worked in international development and with non-government organizations for many years, I'm proud of the strides we've made. But I know we're not done yet. Not by a long shot. Millions of girls continue to be held back because of their gender.
Consider the facts: Each year, 15 million girls under 18 will be married; that's 41,000 each day, or nearly one girl every two seconds. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the second-leading cause of death of 15 to 19 year old girls globally. And, frighteningly, 30 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 around the world experience violence by a partner. Even here at home, three times as many Canadian women as men report being held back in some way due to their gender.
It's unacceptable. And, yes, work is being done to help change this. Because I am a Girl, for instance, is Plan International's global initiative to end gender inequality, promote girls' rights, and lift girls -- and everyone around them -- out of poverty. Since 2012, it has helped nearly five million girls around the world to overcome barriers like child marriage and gender-based violence so that they can go to school, gain economic empowerment and participate in communities that respect and protect their rights.
I'm proud to be joining Plan and look forward to contributing to programs such as this. But I know there's more that we can all do, each and every day, to help end gender inequality. One important way to start is with our own words.
As we go about our daily lives, I don't think we realize just what a difference our words can make in holding a girl back - or helping her to rise to claim her rights as a strong woman. We should be conscious of this, because words have power. Quite frankly, I believe that we all have a responsibility to think more about what we're saying and use our voices intentionally to make a positive impact on the girls in our lives. Our words -- yours, mine, everyone's -- are crucial in shaping the reality of equality for girls and those around them.
I know what a difference the words spoken to me made in my life. I can still hear my mother's voice whenever I told her I was scared about trying something: "It doesn't matter," she said. "Just do it afraid." Those words still encourage me. They mattered then, and they matter now.
As the mother of a young son, I want him to grow up in a world where men and women have the same opportunities. And I firmly believe that as global citizens, every woman, man, boy and girl has a role to play in making this happen -- starting with the words we choose.
Our voices are more powerful than we think, and we have a shared responsibility, as a collective, to use that power to create a ripple effect of change. So as we celebrate International Women's Day, I implore you to think about the difference your voice can make in empowering girls to become confident women who can stand up for their rights and the rights of others.
Together, our voices are stronger than we think. Raise your voice at LiftHerUp.ca.
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