There are a lot of interesting days that we celebrate, such as Sandwich Day and Plaid Day. Those are funny. Being a girl in many parts of the world isn’t funny at all.
In fact, it could almost seem like it’s just plain unlucky.
In a recent Finding Bravery interview with Maria Toorpakai, she shared her story with me about hiding from the Taliban in Pakistan because she was a girl athlete. She was actually hiding from them as a boy.
She was born into a culture and way of thinking that was entrenched in believing that girls and women were chattel, to simply be controlled by men and their base needs and thoughts. Her father saw women as equals and girls as treasures to raise and instilled in them the value of believing it for themselves. For that, he and his whole family has paid a high price.
In fact, one of Maria’s earliest memories were of being struck by a man for throwing a volleyball back onto a court into a game that she was secretly watching from a nearby bush. She was four years old and he struck her simply because she was a girl and she shouldn’t have even touched anything to do with sports.
Statistics in the world around us can help us get an understanding of the magnitude of a problem, but they can’t tell us a story. Only lives can do that.
Of course we already know that girls are valuable and that what happens to them in many parts of the world is deplorable. However, other than the initial feelings of guilt and shock that we have when we realize what is happening around the world, why should we care?
Here are three things that you should know about the dangers that the girl child faces around the globe:
1. One in 3 girls in developing countries (except China) are married before turning 18.
Here’s what that looks like in their life:
- they are often forced to quit their education, leaving them at greater risk for health care needs
- It also often leads them into a life of isolation and violence, with no way out
- They are not given any say in family planning – or even the opportunity to know that it’s an option for them
- Their individual plans cease to exist and are now enslaved to the whim and discretion of their husband
- Childbirth is the number one killer of girls aged 15 to 19, with 50,000 deaths annually
Here’s why I care :
My daughter is 11. She is full of life and hopes and dreams. She only has memories of hearing that she can do or become anything she wants, that she doesn’t need to be married to be fulfilled and she doesn’t have to have babies if she doesn’t want to. I educate her and give her those ideas because I am myself and empowered through education and because my own mother was as well.
We live in a world that those ideals are not idealistic – they are simply a matter of choice.
Did you see that? I give those ideas to her because they were what I was given when I was growing up, too. I happen to be educated to know that these are healthy ways to raise her. But what happens when your Mom was a child bride, has no education and has been forcefully taught and shown that there is no future for young girls outside of men and marriage?
The answer is simple: history repeats itself, time and again. This short video explains it better than me.
2. A child is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five if she is born to a mother who can read.
Literate mothers are empowered. They can read health posters, street signs, newspapers and they gain insight into how to make their world safer for themselves and their children. They also have an empowerment to ask questions and to recognize that they can seek out things for themselves.
Here’s why I care:
When we were first starting the paperwork for our daughter’s adoption, we needed to have official paper signed and authorized by her closest living relative. This was her grandmother, who is illiterate. Her signature was three crosses on the line in front of her.
When I saw her sign those three crosses on that paper, a wave of understanding and empathy swelled up inside of me. How scared she must be to navigate the world around her, unable to read or write. How helpless to know what to believe, having no sense of being able to find things for herself. She, too, was a mother at 15 and had only ever known the grind of poverty and the darkness of illiteracy.
This is a thief of dreams, an insatiable monster that consumes hope and futures.
3. 36 million primary school aged girls are not in school
For the record, there are basically 36 million people in my home country of Canada.
I can’t comprehend that number, can you? It’s easy to just stay in the overwhelm when it comes to numbers such as this. I can’t fully grasp the enormity of the numbers, but I can help you wrap your mind mind around the reasons:
- war and violence keep children out of school.
- when it costs money to put children in school, boys will be chosen over girls every time because they have better future opportunities to use that education in a system that sees girls as a burden
- statelessness means that children have no identity papers – and identity papers are needed to be registered in school
- when girls are seen as property, they will never be considered for education.
Ultimately, the crass way to look at it is, “Keep them poor, keep them dependent on men and keep them in line”.
Here’s why I care:
My time here on earth is limited. I want to make it count and I want to die empty of what’s in me to give to the world. One of those things is my ability to raise my voice and influence for things that matter. This matters.
I am a woman full of hopes and dreams raising a daughter who is full of her own hopes and dreams. It would be easy to simply read headlines, hear about situations such as the above and think of them in terms of “us” and “the other”.
It would be easy to fool ourselves into thinking that it’s removed from our reality, that it’s happening somewhere “out there”.
But to do that is to deny ourselves of the beauty of our humanity: we grow stronger together.
So now, what do we do with this? Here are the three things that I tell everyone:
- Knowledge is power: educate yourself and understand why you should care for yourself
- Put resources behind organizations that are showing success in changing the story
- Share what you know and do with the world around you. Never underestimate the power of your life to change things.
Share this post, and most of all, take action by getting involved in things that are helping to write a better future for girls around the world.
One of the movements I believe in is Raw Hope.
Find out more below: