At the Aydın Dogan Foundation we have been working on the education and empowerment of girls for more than 15 years now. The UN’s declaration of October 11th as the International Day of the Girl Child in 2012 has given us a new opportunity to bring into focus the importance of girls’ education and empowerment.  

As we stated in our concept note written together with our UN partners: The International Day of the Girl Child has been designated by the United Nations as a day to recognise the immense contribution girls make to our societies, promote their rights and continued empowerment, and advocate for an end to the injustices that millions of girls encounter every day. To mark this important day in Turkey, UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women and the Aydın Doğan Foundation have been co-organising national conferences in Istanbul since 2015. Working together has taught and empowered us all, and made the most of our combined competencies.

This series of conferences aim at supporting global and national efforts to create a world free from discrimination, exclusion and violence against girls. To date, the conferences have addressed the themes of ‘equal opportunities in education’, ‘inclusive and quality education for ending child marriage’ and ‘empowered girls as agents of change and resilience’. This year’s (2018) theme was the empowerment of girls from the most disadvantaged backgrounds through science, arts and sports.

The aim of the programme was to highlight the power and potential of adolescent girls in hard-to-reach communities who are living in conditions that prevent them from fully enjoying their fundamental rights – making them vulnerable to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect. Following the principle of ‘leave no one behind’ and noting the goal of achieving equitable development outcomes, this year’s conference addressed girls’ involvement in science, arts and sports as a way to ensure the most marginalised and vulnerable girls meet the 2030 development targets and enjoy/fulfil their own rights.

Full and equal involvement in science for women and girls of all ages is imperative for achieving gender equality and empowerment, since it provides women and girls with the knowledge, capacity, aptitudes, skills, ethical values and understanding necessary for lifelong learning and greater participation in social, economic and political development[1]. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 4 on Quality Education and SGD 5 on Gender Equality, promote girls’ engagement not only in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects and computing sciences but also in scientific thinking in general. Building upon last year’s conference discussions on women pursuing careers in science and technology, this year we focused more on the emancipating power of inquiry and research-based decision making that increases girls’ imagination, creativity and understanding of the world we live in.    

Arts and sports, on the other hand, have the power to transcend boundaries of sex, race, religion and nationality. In an era where women are more visible in sports than ever before, women and girls in sports defy gender stereotypes, make inspiring role models, and show men and women as equals. The SDG Agenda also explicitly recognises sport as an important enabler for development and women and girls’ empowerment in particular[2]. Supporting women’s and girls’ participation in the arts can also make an important contribution to empowerment, showcasing girls’ skills, facilitating the telling of stories that question gender stereotypes[3], allowing self-expression, increasing self-confidence and enabling their increased contribution to economic, social and political spheres of life.

At the conference, with our partner organisations, we have been able to bring together children from diverse corners of Turkey, including refugee children. We have witnessed how talented they are and, when given the slightest the opportunity, how they can change their destiny. Girls in sports, arts and science had a chance to speak up as role models for fellow students and girls in remote corners; using social media opportunities they shared their comments and views reaching more than 10 million viewers.They also had the good opportunity of listening to many powerful speakers and Ms. Zainab Salbi as a keynote gave an inspirational speech on freedom, hard work and perseverance.

We believe that amidst all the havoc around the world there is a great pool of young talent of both girls and boys who hopefully working together will play pivoting roles in shaping the future.

 This is why everyday we find new strength working to create new opportunities for them.

Come and join us next year for an even bigger event for the 5th Conference for the “International day of the Girl Child” in Istanbul!

[1] United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Report Ref: E/CN.6/2011/12 http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=E/2011/27

[2] UN Women, Women and Sports http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/women-and-sport

[3] https://www.britishcouncil.org.bd/sites/default/files/british_council_impact_report_web.pdf