Today, the International Rescue Committee is marking International Day of the Girl Child 2022 by celebrating girls around the world, who are showing remarkable resilience in the face of discrimination, inequality and violence. As numerous crises worldwide are compounded by climate change, conflict and extreme humanitarian need, the IRC pays tribute to the strength and hope of the girls it works with around the world, fighting for their right to safety, education and opportunity.  

In East Africa, the ongoing hunger crisis – which has its roots in climate change, the Ukraine war and conflict – is putting adolescent girls at disproportionate risk, as they are displaced in search of food and water, forced into early marriage due to financial hardship, and face extreme hunger and malnutrition. Conflict and crises invariably place women and girls under heightened threat of gender-based violence, and extreme drought caused by four seasons of failed rains across East Africa has exposed girls to violence, as families are left with no choice but to migrate to unfamiliar and risky territories in search of resources. 

However, through its Girl Shine programme, part of its provision of lifesaving services in East Africa, the IRC has met and been inspired by thousands of displaced girls overcoming obstacles and pursuing their education and skills training despite difficult circumstances. Through Girl Shine, the IRC has worked with over 6,000 adolescent girls, including Nimco and Hibo, to establish a safe and supportive learning environment in which girls can explore their strengths, and develop their leadership skills and economic opportunities.  

Nimco is a 17-year-old girl who fled to Ethiopia from Somalia almost a decade ago due to the threat of conflict, and has been living in a tent in a refugee camp with her parents and 7 siblings since. With very few opportunities to earn an income to buy food, Nimco and her family were forced to rely on humanitarian food distributions to survive. However, after attending a henna class ran by the IRC Women and Girls Wellness Centre inside the camp, Nimco made the decision to develop her skills and now runs her own henna business to earn an income.  

Nimco told us, “Knowledge and skills are an important thing to have in my life. They put me in the right direction for reaching my dream and supporting myself, without being dependent on others and burdening my parents. I got the chance to participate in the Girl Shine Programme, which I believe will increase my knowledge and help me to reach my dream independently.”  

Nimco’s friend and classmate, 16-year-old Hibo, added: “I am very happy to be a girl. I can be accountable and supportive to other girls and I can educate myself – which will help me to educate my children. If girls are given the right to obtain an education, they can reach their goals like boys.”  

In Afghanistan, just over a year since schools were closed to secondary school-age girls by de facto authorities, 80% of girls are currently missing out on an education. As extreme weather conditions related to climate change further contribute to humanitarian need, upholding access to education for girls is key to supporting a vision of a more stable, prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan.  

The IRC is galvanized by stories of girls attending its Community-Based Education programming in 5 Afghan provinces, which supports children up to Grade 6 to learn while they are unable to access formal education. Many of the attendees – more than half of whom are girls – travel to classes up to six times per week, determined to continue pursuing their dreams of becoming doctors, engineers or teachers.  

Zahra, aged 7, walks to IRC’s CBE classes everyday with her best friend Amina, in her village in Logar province. Zahra told us: “I want to be an engineer, because I want to serve my country. I want to draw and build beautiful houses to serve our people, because most people live in tents and I want them to live in houses.”  

Helen Stawski, IRC Europe Policy Director, said:  

“International Day of the Girl Child provides an opportunity for us all to elevate the voices of girls worldwide demanding rights and representation.   

“We are pleased that the new Foreign Secretary has committed to maintaining the Prime Minister’s promise to put women and girls at the heart of UK foreign policy, which must include support for girls living in humanitarian emergencies. However, cuts to the UK’s ODA budget mean there has been a significant reduction (£1.6bn) in the UK’s gender-relevant spending, which means less support for girls suffering from hunger and malnutrition, less funding for the prevention of gender-based violence, and less investment in the futures of young and adolescent girls everywhere.  

“We urge the Foreign Secretary to publish the UK’s Women and Girls Strategy and set out details on how the FCDO will restore the women and girls aid budget, support local women’s rights organisations around the world, and make good on its commitment to put women and girls at the heart of UK foreign policy.  

“We must use this day to turn words into meaningful action for girls: they deserve no less.”