Font size
  • S
  • M
  • L

Creating the world where all girls are allowed to have dreams Plan Japan

Ryo Goto, Communication Officer of Plan Japan

Ryo Goto, Communication Officer of Plan Japan

This month's Close UP features Plan Japan, a non-governmental organization providing global support for 75 years to assist community development with focus on children. The organization is currently operating a wide range of local development projects in 50 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America so that children in developing countries and their communities are able to have independent lives. As one of the major projects, Plan has been promoting its "Because I am a Girl" Campaign since 2007, which aims to support girls in developing countries who are often left at the bottom of the society. As part of the campaign, Plan has been appealing to the United Nations to establish International Day of the Girl Child, which is officially starting on October 11 this year. For this interview, we visited Plan Japan's office in Setagaya City and spoke to Ryo Goto, a Communication Officer of the organization.

Can you explain how the campaign that focuses on helping girls started?

A. Tjipke Bergsma, current deputy chief executive officer of the international headquarters of Plan, visited a village in Nepal where Plan was conducting a support project. As local people of the village were having a meeting in a circle under the tree, a German journalist, who was accompanying Bergsma, noticed a girl staring at the group in a distance. The girl was thin, dressed in shabby clothes, and was shivering even though the weather was not cold. The two visited the girl's house and found that she had a brother, who in contrast was neatly dressed in a school uniform and looked quite healthy. Being shocked, they asked the children's mother why her son and daughter were treated so differently in the same family. She replied to them, "Because she is a girl."

Those are very shocking words to hear.

A. Plan has a long history of promoting the rights of children. We were shocked to face the reality that in some countries and regions boys and girls are treated differently and girls are often left out of various supports just because of their gender. The organization later conducted a two-year-long research about the situation surrounding young girls in different countries and found that as many as 75 million girls around the world were not allowed to go to school, that one out of three girls does not receive a secondary education. Lack of education will become a major obstacle for young girls to be independent as they get older. "Because I am a Girl" campaign was launched with a goal to make the international society aware of the need for establishing a global system and securing the right of receiving elementary and secondary educations for the girls regardless of where they live.

Panel display for Because I am a Girl campaign at Plan Japan's office entrance

Panel display for "Because I am a Girl" campaign at Plan Japan's office entrance

How would the world be changed if girls are allowed to receive education?

Raise Your Hand action by children
in Benin © Plan Japan

"Raise Your Hand" action by children
in Benin © Plan Japan

A. It has been statistically proved that creating an environment where girls are appropriately educated such that they have visions for their future and are skilled for better jobs makes a major difference in solving the global poverty issues. Because women are mainly responsible for taking care of children, they tend to save money they've earned and use it for the need of their family. Many of these women are also highly motivated to get involved in local activities for improving their community, which will eventually lead to the improvement of the entire country. The majority of microfinance entrepreneurs are women as well. Women making more money will promote a reinvestment to families and local communities. Data show that receiving a secondary education one year longer will result in a 15 to 20% increase in her income, creating a significant effect on the economy.

We understand that education for girls also closely relates to the mortality rate of children.

A. Young girls who are not allowed to go to school are usually given the responsibility of taking care of their younger siblings as well as the housework. Once they become old enough they are forced to marry. Those girls will get pregnant and have a baby, with their body not yet matured, and lacking knowledge of health and childrearing. This contributes to the higher mortality rate of babies among them. It is believed that even a year of elementary education will reduce the mortality of babies born from that girl. Education also helps girls understand their own rights and empowers them to refuse with their own voice a forced marriage or unfair child labor. Receiving education is very important for young girls as a means for self-protection and also for encouraging other women in the community to live their new lives as women.

Appealing for support of International Day of the Girl Child in Niger © Plan Japan

Appealing for support of International Day of the Girl Child in Niger
© Plan Japan

Tell us about "International Day of the Girl Child" that starts this year.

A. As part of our promotion of the "Because I am a Girl" campaign, Plan has been actively working with the United Nations asking for an official establishment of International Day of the Girl Child. It was very important for us to found it as a UN commemorative day to improve the awareness in the international society and advance the movement. At the UN's general meeting in December last year, it was officially approved that October 11 will be the official International Day of the Girl Child starting this year. As there are already such commemorative days as Universal Children's Day and International Women's Day, International Day of the Girl Child is the first commemorative day for young girls.

What are some of the special events to be held to commemorate the world's first International Day of the Girl Child?

Raise Your Hand action by children in Bangladesh © Plan Japan

"Raise Your Hand" action by children
in Bangladesh © Plan Japan

A. We are going to celebrate the day with a special event, "Girl's Impact –Girls are changing the world" on October 8 at the United Nations University in Shibuya. The event will be held in two parts; for the first part, Mari Yamashita, director of the United Nations Information Centre, and our deputy chief executive officer of the Plan international headquarters and executive director of Plan India, will speak about our journey to the establishment of International Day of the Girl Child and also the current situations surrounding young girls in the developing countries. Members from the Girl Scouts of Japan will also join us to make a presentation about the environment that surrounds girls in Japan. For the second part of the event, we will take part in the international anti-poverty movement, "STAND UP TAKE ACTION".

"Girls are changing the world" is a very strong message.

A. We came up with that phrase not to make it just an eye-catcher. Research and statistics have given evidence that providing education to girls and allowing them to have dreams as they grow up does change the world. So many young girls in developing countries don't even know how to dream about their future. Receiving no education means having no chance to know possibilities for the future. Our goal is to share our vision with others that education can help girls develop their potential.

International Day of the Girl Child Commemorative Event (in Japanese)

Can you introduce us to your new action campaign to support girls around the world?

A. Plan just launched a new global campaign this September, called "Raise Your Hands for Girls." The action is designed to achieve the global society in which school education opportunity is equally given to girls around the world. If you would like to be part of our effort to help young girls in any country go to school and raise their hands in the classroom, please show your support by taking pictures of yourself raising hands and posting the pictures to the campaign website. Posted pictures will be shared on the website and will also be delivered as an appeal for "equal education for every girl" to the Secretary General of the United Nations and other supporting organizations around the world. Our goal is to collect pictures of 4 million supporters internationally and 140,000 supporters in Japan. The pictures will be accepted until June 30, 2013.

Raise Your Hand action photo by French supporters© Plan Japan

Raise Your Hand action photo by French supporters© Plan Japan

Please explain briefly how to participate in this campaign.

A. First, download the message board from the "Raise Your Hands for Girls" campaign website. The board is available in a girl's version, which says "Because I am a Girl" and a boy's version, which says "Because I am a ..........of a Girl." Add your own messages to the board, and share your concerns about girls around the world as being a girl yourself, or tell the world how as a boy you would like to support the girls. Hold the message board up and raise your hands, and take a picture to post to the website. If it is difficult to think of your own message, it is ok to skip adding the message and just raise your hands in the picture. We have a facebook page in which you can participate in the campaign just by clicking, but we would still appreciate if you can send us pictures. I believe taking a real action always causes your awareness to change.

"Raise Your Hands for Girls"campaign information (in Japanese)

Message board Donation box

Message board and donation box for Raise Your Hands for Girls campaign

Lastly, please give a message to our readers.

A. "Global cooperation" may not sound easy, but knowing the issues and doing what you can do is important in helping the world. You can start your action by taking a picture for the Raise Your Hands campaign and show your support to quality school education for girls in the developing countries. We will also be grateful if you introduce your friends and families to the campaign and its goal and encourage them to join the picture for the action. I believe we can start making a change to the world by helping more young girls in Japan be aware of at least the fact that in some part of the world girls of their age cannot go to school just because they are girls.