International Day of the Girl

by - Thursday, October 11, 2012

Today is the First ever International Day of the Girl, which is pretty awesome, but slightly badly planned since it is also National Coming Out Day. Probably they could get out of each other's way. Anyway, this day highlights some of the extreme challenges young girls face around the world, hopefully to motivate some action (check here for the information and try to not be moved to do something-


One of the main issues that young girls in many cultures face is child marriage. suggests that in the next ten years, there will be another 142 million child brides. That is more brides than girls in school in America and Europe combined. You can read horror story after horror story about 11 and 12 year olds forced to get married in places like the Sudan and Afghanistan, then having children without proper nutrition or medical care. Girls are often denied opportunities we can now take for granted- just two days a girl, a young aspiring doctor- Malala Yousafzai- was shot in the face by a Taliban for openly advocating for equal rights to education (a move they saw is wanting to Westernize).

Girls are often the first victims when a conservative culture feels threatened by outside liberal forces. The socio-cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai claimed that when other cultures feel this threat, they re-instate their control through the female body- you can see this in lots of muslim cultures where women still maintain traditional dress, but men can wear Western Dress. You can even see it in our own culture, where conservative panic is consistently marked by an outspoken desire to regain control over women's reproductive rights. The trick to a globally-minded feminism is to be respectful of cultural difference while recognizing when a line is being crossed.

The way I personally mark the line for myself is when the activity is hurting other people. Child marriage and very early pregnancy absolutely hurts these girls. Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 19. There are appoximately 2 million girls living with obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal. A fistula can cause chronic incontinence, leading to skin infections, kidney disease and social isolation. Child marriage is one of the instances where the line is clearly being crossed, but to make a difference in this, Western and local feminists have to be mindful of the complex cultural web around the tradition we abhor. It's never simple, and to some extent, we have to be mindful of what is our business and what we have the right to change. Another place where we can begin to mindfully make a difference is to find ways to get girls more education, since so many girls in the world ( about 70%) do not receive a secondary education.

So International Girls Day becomes a complex experiment, because the problems facing young girls around the world are so varied, but even being aware that these things exist and that inequality is so prominent around the world is part of the battle. I cannot count how many times people have tried to make the argument that feminism is no longer necessary, but on a global scale, it could not be more important. Don't let the largeness of the problem intimidate you. Find a small part you  can contribute to, monetarily and otherwise, and do so. There are also so many programs out there to help girls in your vicinity (Girl scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters, etc) Get out there and learn more. I don't care what your politics are, no one can be cool with what is going on. The mere fact that you have time to read this means you are in a privileged enough position to do something.

Here are some more places to get information and get involved:

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