Today is International Day of the Girl. Declared by the UN, this day acknowledges that girls and women face inequality in areas such as access to education, nutrition, legal rights, and medical care, and face discrimination, violence against women and forced child marriage.

To mark this day, we spoke with Plan Canada International spokesperson, Anna Croxon.

Anna is a high school student who leads her school’s Inclusivity Club (GSA), is an active member of the Social Justice Club, and is heavily involved in numerous academic extracurriculars including Mock Trial, Model United Nations, and Debating and Public Speaking. This is her story, in her own words.

When I was a kid, I can very vividly remember being in situations where I felt less than because of my gender.

From not being able to play soccer with the boys at recess to being talked over and interrupted during class discussions to being labeled based off of what I was wearing, I soon began to think these comments just came with being a girl.

It wasn’t until I was about 13 or 14 that I realized these attitudes and beliefs people held were not okay. I realized that it was only girls being told they couldn’t do something, when the boys were constantly being encouraged to go for it. From that point on, my passion for gender equality began to increase, and I found organizations that were fighting to deconstruct the stereotypes people hold about women and girls that I was seeing in my own life.

When I was 15, I joined Plan International Canada’s speakers bureau, a hub for young people to come together once a month to talk about gender equality in all aspects, and build on their general knowledge and public speaking skills. It was there that I truly learned the barriers that women and girls face every single day, not only here in Canada, but all over the world. From that point on I committed myself to not only making an effort to advance gender equality in the spaces I was present in but to also call people out on their gender discriminatory behaviour. It all started with noticing those microaggressions and offside comments and then finally bringing them to the surface. This ultimately began my passion for advancing gender equality.

It’s always been fascinating to me that we expect the oppressed to be solely responsible for the alleviation of their own oppression. As someone who was born with an immense amount of privilege, I recognize the importance of using that privilege to create positive change. I have been incredibly lucky to lead the life that I do. This very notion and the privilege I hold is ultimately what has fuelled my passion for social justice and human rights. I recognize that being a white, cisgendered woman in today’s society gives you a platform. It gives you a space to share your thoughts and experiences, usually without much judgment. I want to use that platform to step up, and then to step back. I want to make room for the voices and the narratives that are underrepresented in today’s society. I want to share my platform with those who maybe do not have one. It is my responsibility as someone with privilege to make room, but after making room, it is then my responsibility to step back and listen.

I think we could all be putting more effort and thought into is making sure that our fight for a gender equal world is truly intersectional. It is imperative that all women, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, race, and ability, are included in the movement for a gender-equal world. Without keeping feminism intersectional, our attempt at inclusiveness can actually erase the acknowledgment of unique issues that disproportionately affect a certain group of people. For example, the amount of missing and murdered Indigenous women is skyrocketing. It is a national epidemic, and something that we should all be fighting for. These women deserve justice, and they deserve to be encompassed within the fight for gender equality. It is crucial to remember that if there is not equality for all women, there is equality for no women.

International Day of the Girl really means two things to me:

To celebrate and acknowledge how far we have come both nationally and globally in our efforts towards a truly gender equal world. We have made great strides towards gender equality, and those efforts should be recognized. However, International Day of the Girl also equally serves as a reminder. A reminder of how far we still need to go. There is no country in the world that has achieved gender equality. It is essential that we continue advocating for a world in which all women are given the opportunity to rise to their full potential.

This September, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Girls Belong Here Initiative with Plan International Canada to celebrate International Day of the Girl. The goal of the initiative is to show that women belong in, and can attain leadership positions in the workplace. My seatshare was with the CEO and President of Plan International Canada, Caroline Riseboro. My day with Caroline was absolutely amazing. I did not just have a seat at a table, but I was at the head of it. My day was filled with insightful discussions which left me with a feeling of such gratitude- so proud to be a part of such a great organization. To me, they are an example of what every organization, business and government should be doing in today’s world; listening to young people.

I have the ability to be a change-maker.

For a long time I did not believe in myself, or in the power of my voice. I prefaced what I would say with an apology, or would not even speak at all in certain spaces in fear of sounding unintelligent. It was only when I began to believe in myself, that things in my life truly started to change for me. I learned that I DO have the power to create change in the spaces that I am a part of, but that change can only occur if I believe it can. Over these past few years, I have begun to recognize the power that I hold, and the ability to influence the systems around me. The belief I have fostered in myself has now propelled me into everything I do with purpose and determination.