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International Day of The ….

With the announcement of the official International Day of the Girl this past week, it made me reflect about these distinctions. This particular day was due in large part to Plan Canada and their focus on empowering women and young girls. The organization’s Because I am A Girl campaign has undoubtedly raised the awareness of many people in Canada about the benefit of focusing on girl’s within international development. However, for me there are two concerns about these types of distinctions. Firstly there are so many of them. As I write this it is world food day. Issues surrounding food security and the growing prevalence of land grabbing and speculation of commodity prices are extremely relevant in addressing poverty and security issues around the world. Today the World Food Program is trying to get 50,000 children fed through an innovative online interactive video, which I can’t watch because of the internet speed here, but I assume it is quite compelling. But what about tomorrow? The issue of food is massive and certainly deserves more than one day.

Oxfam International has organized their GROW week around world food day to bring even more attention to the issue. They are holding creative demonstrations around the country to highlight the complex issues that are facing the world in regards to food regulation and scarcity. Does this solve the problem though? Evoking an entire week to raise awareness of an issue? If everyone does this, we will have very many weeks, which would become confusing very quickly. Most importantly, with everyone focusing on food this week, what about the girls?

There are 113 official international days recognized by the United Nations. Obviously some of the days garner more media attention than others. There are also other movements like Oxfam’s GROW week, that try to promote themselves in a way to make people stop and think. They do this by creating a belief that there is something special about a certain day, week, or month. Sometimes I think that I may just be inundated with things like this because I am fairly connected to development news streams, yet with the new Day of the Girl this year it seemed different. So the question really remains, is having a day for an issue better or worse? It raises awareness of the issue but at the same time adds another thing that people should be concerned about in their lives. Anyone who has talked to me knows that I think people could always pay more attention to pressing world issues, but if they turn off completely this does not benefit anyone. Similarly, does choosing a day and giving people something to do simplify the issue too much? By creating ways to participate such as wearing a pink shirt, green ribbon, or blue button, retweeting or liking something on Facebook, do people believe they have taken part in a movement or understood an issue? Or oppositely, does it allow more people to come into contact with an issue and engage it in a way that they had not previously? Obviously organizers and campaigners hope for the latter. When I have seen this type of distinction make a difference is when newspapers and major news outlets do something to change their normal broadcasting. Usually they say “in honour of international …… week/day” followed by a news piece or print layout about a certain issue. This type of more in depth coverage is encouraging, but it will mean that some issues will be left out in the cold.

These days do not only affect people in the developed world, somewhere in the mix of last week there was also the International Day of Hand-washing While it seems like a simple thing, washing ones hands is often the first line of defense against major outbreaks and keeping people generally healthy. Some organizations here used the opportunity to teach people the importance of washing hands. In the state where I am working, the event was aimed at helping more children reach their fifth birthday. This is definitely a useful platform to teach and help people understand the importance of such issues. However, usually people here understand the issues very well because they are first and foremost in their lives.

I hope that the International Day of the Girl does bring more attention to the plight of girls and young women around the world. I also hope that this type of commemoration can lead to more in depth conversation and analysis of issues that many people care deeply about. Without this, we will be left perpetually asking, “…and what am I supposed to care about tomorrow?”


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