The world is home to more than 1.1 billion girls under age 18, who are “poised to become the largest generation of female leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers the world has ever seen,” according to the United Nations.
AFRICaide President Emilie Songolo has that in mind as she gets ready to host International Day of the Girl 2021, a virtual celebration of the UN International Day of the Girl Child, which will take place Sunday, Oct. 10, noon-2 p.m.
“This event is all about girls – including those who haven’t even been born yet. A lot of these issues when we talk about the gender gap and disparities makes me believe that we really need to focus on girls,” Songolo tells Madison365. “If we position everyone in our community, families and society in a better place to help girls grow up with more strength to fend off the challenges that we women face, the better off we will be.
“A lot of women have been so beaten down since the time they were little girls that it’s difficult for them to trust anyone to go towards the resources that are available to them,” she adds. “This is what the event is about. This is what drove me to start this effort and to pull others into this effort.”
Hosted by AFRICaide and 4W –Women & Wellbeing In Wisconsin, the event is geared towards girls and women in Madison but will be welcoming attendees from all over the world through an interactive program on Zoom that will celebrate girls and young women.
Keynote speakers will include Reagan Jackson and Rose Edwards, co-executive directors of Young Women Empowered, whose mission is to cultivate the power of diverse young women to be creative leaders and courageous changemakers through transformative programs within a collaborative community of belonging.
“Reagan [Jackson] grew up here right in Madison. She’s great,” Songolo says. “We are looking forward to hearing her and Rose Edwards speak.”
The special guest will be Shreya Gundelly, Miss Wisconsin Teen USA 2021. At International Day of the Girl 2021, there will also be a resource fair exhibiting local, state-wide, national, and international organizations that provide essential, innovative, and interactive resources to girls and children.
“People will be able to go from room to room. It will be really exciting. People are really doing innovative work,” Songolo says. “We’re really trying to hear the voices of the girls; centering the voices of the girls so it’s not us doing the talking. It’s the girls doing the talking about what they want and what they expect us to do to see a future they can thrive in.
“They know exactly what they want,” she adds. “We just have to pay attention.”
Madison’s first celebration of International Day of the Girl took place last year, virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and organized by AFRICaide and the 4W Initiative. These organizations have worked together every March to plan a big International Women’s Day event in Madison and are planning this year’s event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of International Day of the Girl.
For years, Songolo has been doing a lot of work involving the gender gap, women, girls and the disparities that exist between men and women. “I’ve been working a long time to improve the conditions of women,” she says.”The idea for this event came one day when I just started thinking about girls. We need to focus more on girls because so many girls are going through so many challenges and so many don’t see a possible way out.”
Ten years ago, the United Nations officially declared International Day of the Girl Child (IDG).
“This year is the 10th anniversary of International Women’s Day which is Oct. 11. It is a day that focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights,” Songolo says.
The theme this year is “Digital Generation … Our Generation.”
“We chose that theme because the gender gap is in so many areas. In the digital era where technology and the Internet are helping people improve their lives … when it comes to girls, the disparity is huge,” Songolo says. “The gap between boys and girls in the access to technology and technology skills is large. It keeps getting worse. So we’re saying that we want to provide more technology for girls and we cannot afford to have a future where they are so far behind that they won’t be able to access education and jobs.”
Songolo the founder of AFRICaide, a grassroots non-profit organization based in Madison that strives to reduce abject poverty in Africa through rural development projects. In Africa, where Songolo does a lot of her work, she says the disparities are very stark.
“Many of the girls don’t have the technologies they need to succeed,” she says. “With technology, women and girls are able to succeed in so many fields and technology also enables them to let people know what’s going on whether they are in an abusive situation or if they are struggling.”
Songolo is hoping for a great turnout at the International Day of the Girl 2021.
“The event is here to raise awareness of all of these issues and to also organize our people and institutions. Eventually, I hope that we can think about how to impact policy about girls’ issues right here in our own backyards to start,” she says.
International Day of the Girl 2021 will take place Sunday, Oct. 10, noon-2 p.m. For more information, click here.