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This year’s International Day for the Girl Child is celebrated under the theme “Digital Generation. Our generation.” In thinking about the theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child, I can’t help but remember the words I wrote just a few days ago for World Teachers’ Day. So much of the focus in global education this year is on bridging the digital gap, connectivity, and digital skills.

One thing has become undeniably clear, a child’s ability to access digital devices, connect to the world wide web and properly utilise the thousands of information and communication technologies is a determining factor for their future. Digital literacy and technological access will ultimately determine what they will be able to accomplish in life, the places and spaces they can occupy, their socio-economic and cultural position in society, and so on.

Of course, it is also crucial to recognise, and act on the painful realisation that those most affected by the COVID- 19 pandemic, in terms of access to education and otherwise, were also the ones most negatively affected by the digital divide; girl children are the most disproportionately affected. Considering the unequal impact of the pandemic, particularly with regards to the growing digital divide, and that there are 2.2 billion people below the age of 25 still not having internet access at home, the statement “Digital Generation. Our Generation’ can only be a wish, something to work towards. I do share this wish, for all girls to be connected to the internet, to have access to a wealth of knowledge, digital tools, and opportunities, to be able to exchange with people from around the world from their own home, however modest it may be. I am however concerned that this year’s theme makes the mistake of elevating one of the means to achieve education, as its ultimate end.

Reminiscing about my childhood, I realise that some of my most vivid memories as a girl are related to human suffering and social justice. I grew up in the 80s, deeply marked by TV images of the famine in Somalia. I had this burning determination to do something, to somehow help, to change things. My 6-year-old self went and bought some packets of rice to contribute to a collection organised by a local charity to be shipped to Somalia. It was only many years later when attending Prof David Keen‘s class did I realise the “complexity” of such emergencies. My gesture was in vain. But it was one of solidarity, kindness, and a desire for social justice. I eventually joined a global movement for progressive social change as an adult.

I have not been a girl for a few decades now but a central aspect of my life is actually raising a little girl. My daughter is 3 and in her world of unicorns, dolls and teddy bears, and increasingly complex friendships, I am watching her grow into a human that is kind, troubled by injustice, caring for the ill, bringing justice to the faulted, crying with the hurt. There are much better thematics – that actually speak to the current zeitgeist – that could have been chosen for this day.

Justice Generation. Our Generation
Freedom Generation. Our Generation.
Healing Generation. Our Generation.
Empathy Generation. Our Generation.

When the automobile was invented, the suffragettes were fighting for the right to vote for women. Was this generation called the automobile generation? The women’s political rights generation? We are not one block or age, and our generation does not define us and our social gains. But more importantly, when there is so much injustice, so much insecurity, so many prejudices facing our girls today, the words we use to describe ourselves become illustrative of what we find important as a society. There are so many obstacles and glass ceilings on the way to equity, so many struggles to fight in the outside and in girls’ inner worlds to heal from and overcome the damages resulting from centuries of patriarchal rule, oppression, and violence. It seems derisory to think of, qualify, or wish for this generation to be the digital generation.

I wish for my daughter to be free, accomplished, healed of interrogational trauma, conscious, and able to stand up for herself and the ones she loves in the face of discrimination and injustice. Let our daughters define what their generation will be with their consciousness and their actions. The means and tools shall not determine their purpose and victories. Girls are full of power and full of surprises. When my daughter turns 25, and we look back at her generation and its meaning in history, I profoundly believe that bigger and greater change will have been accomplished than bridging the digital divide and that “digital generation” would be a wholly inadequate description. I deeply believe that this generation of girls will bear a formidable name, remembered in history for changing our collective humanity for the better.

Written by:

Julia Sestier, GCE Campaigns Creative Content and Engagement Officer

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.