Worthiness, how do we determine the value of something? Is it by price, by appearance, by placement, by brand? Human life is priceless, beautiful, and one of a kind. The possibilities of shaping one's character are limitless and only bound by the borders we set for ourselves -- so why is it that girls are marginalized, discriminated against, and still not valued the same as boys?
Inhumane and senseless acts of cruelty are inflicted upon girls all around the world. Girls are married off so young that their ages can still be in the single digits; they say goodbye to childhoods that have barely started and often die from childbirth; and worldwide, nearly half of the children out of school are girls, who are often denied even the most primary education because of archaic cultural beliefs and gender stereotypes.
Yesterday, the world celebrated the news that Malala Yousafzai -- the 17 year old Pakistani child education activist who was catapulted to the international stage two years ago when she was attacked by Taliban militants for campaigning for girls' education -- and Kailash Satyarthi -- Indian child rights campaigner -- had won the Nobel Peace Prize. At a press conference following the announcement, Malala dedicated the honor to "all those children who are voiceless."
For me, this day of the girl every year is a reminder of how fortunate I am and the actions I hope to inspire others to take on behalf of the girls that need us to speak out for them. I could have easily been a statistic myself, but I'm not. The woman that raised me and I were both abandoned because of our gender. My mother overcame the odds, made a life for herself and rescued me from human traffickers. We became a family and I was given opportunities she never had. I know one of my life's mission is to give opportunities to girls so there will be more stories like mine to share so no girl has to be alone, abandoned, or abused, but valued and cherished.
The theme for this year's International Day of the Girl Child is Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence. The U.N. is calling for governments, private and public institutions, and society in general to promote girls' empowerment through concrete actions like:
- Investing in adolescent girls to give them skills, confidence and life options, such as technical and vocational education and training.
- Making the system (infrastructure, technology, services) accessible and effective to meet their needs for safety, connectivity, and mobility.
- Supporting girls in civic, economic, and political engagement
- Make violence against girls and women visible and unacceptable, no matter the environment.
Malala, at 17, is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. We've made some strides in recognizing and supporting the efforts of girls, but we still have a long way to go to ensure that all girls will grow up in a safe and encouraging world, where their opportunities are limitless and they're valued as who they are as individuals (and not relative to how "useful" they are to exterior powers).
It's easy to know the sobering facts, but what can we do to help? Awareness-raising is critical, but tearing down outdated and repressive systems isn't something that can be accomplished overnight. What small steps can we all take that'll cause ripples enough to move mountains?
- Donate to the U.N. Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women
- Host a screening of Girl Rising for your local community, whether it's in a classroom or at the theater.
- Support organizations like Room to Read, which are directly enriching the lives of girls all over the world through education. You can donate, visit a site, even start your own campaign!
- End the cycle of pitting girls against each other. It's a competition they never signed up for and one no one can win. Champion female friendships and stop the culture of belittling teenage girls.