Can a girl change the world?

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Throughout history we have witnessed social and political transformations achieved through the collective actions of others and often led by the vision of an individual. As stated by Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.

The version of history we are taught in school would have us believe that all important changemakers were men and that women had very little to do with the advancement of civilisation. However, we know this is completely false.

Women have changed the course of history in all realms of humanity. All across technology, economics, health, the arts, social and civil change, sports, education, science and religion, you will find female pioneers leading the way.  Women have affirmed an enduring place in history as a result of the diligent commitment of our foremothers such as Emmeline Pankhurst – Suffragette leader, Angela Davis – political civil rights activist, Emilia Earhart – first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic, Maria Montessori – physician and educator, Alice Walker- author, Babe Didrikson Zaharias – athlete and Mother Teresa – religious humanitarian leader. Historical female political changemakers include but are not limited to Cleopatra, Empress Toshi-ko of Japan, Catherine the Great, Mary Queen of Scots, Joan of Arc, Queen Nanny of Jamaica, Queen Nzingha of Angola in addition to contemporary leaders such as Presidents Isabel Peron, Joyce Banda, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf or Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, Mary Robinson, Indira Gandhi, Pratibha Patil, Benazir Bhutto. The list is endless.

Today, women and girls continue to make history around the world. Take Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani education activist who, in 2012, was shot by the Taliban on her school bus for speaking out about the importance of girls’ equal access to education. Malala survived the attack and, as a result, sparked an international campaign to ensure girls’ equal access to affordable and quality education. Through her small act of writing a blog for the BBC, Malala shared with the world the realities faced by thousands of girls in rural Pakistan. Today, Malala is hailed as a champion of girls’ rights to education and was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, Malala is not the only girl making her mark in the history books.

In the global effort to end child marriage, various civil society groups, governments, NGOs, women, girls, men and boys are writing a new history with women and girls at the centre.  A group of Bangladeshi teenagers known as Wedding Busters are taking positive action to change the minds of parents in their community with the aim of making their region a child marriage free zone. In Bangladesh, 66% of girls are married before they reach the age of 18, often depriving them of a chance for an education and condemning them to ill health and economic hardship.

Wedding Busters is comprised of both girls and boys; girls who were at risk of child marriage act as advocates for other girls. In a video produced by Plan International, Sonhita, a 13-year-old girl who was married three years prior and now has a six month old baby, aspires to provide a better future for her daughter. Sonhita shares that she will ensure her daughter stays in school so as not to deny her of her dreams. Girls like Sonhita are the real game changers and history makers.

Can a girl change the world? Yes! But not alone, she must have the support of others as only through collective action is change truly possible.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons. 

Breaking All Barriers to Girls' Education

Friday, July 12th, was Malala Yousafazi’s 16th birthday. Last October, Malala was shot by the Taliban for speaking out for girls’ education. They failed in their attempt to silence her. On Friday, she and students from over 80 countries lead the “United Nations Youth Takeover” with a global call to action for quality education for all children. Malala herself said:

One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.

By Oxfam East Africa c/o Laura Pannack, via Wikimedia Commons
By Oxfam East Africa c/o Laura Pannack, via Wikimedia Commons

Quality education for every child, every person, should be a right that all people have. Yet, 57 million children are not in school, while millions more are not getting quality education.

In the days after Malala’s shooting, other families and young girls were afraid to go to school, and the classrooms remained empty. While these girls eventually went back to school, and grew in number, the terror continues. In June, a university bus carrying women teachers and students in Pakistan was bombed.

But in other places around the world, these aren’t the barriers and challenges girls face in their attempts to get a quality education. Girls are consistently used as infrastructure for clean water, electricity, and childcare systems. Girls cannot attend school if they have to walk long distances to collect water for their families. Children cannot attend school if they are sick from drinking dirty water or from not having a toilet. Girls cannot attend school when they start their periods if their school does not have toilets for them to use privately. Children cannot receive quality education if they are developmentally stunted from undernutrition due to unsafe water and sanitation.

We all stand with Malala to fight for quality education for every child.

Let’s keep the momentum from Malala Day going, and continue to advocate for the defeat of all causes of this injustice. The youth at the UN Takeover urged governments to help children who are not enrolled in school. Let’s urge them, not only to end the violence against girls and schoolchildren, but also to create lasting change in education infrastructure and systems, such as school toilets and buildings, training for teachers, school books, and the barriers that prevent children from going to school in the first place. See the Girls’ Globe infographic on education.

Things you can do: 

Learn more:

Like Malala, I Raise My Hand to Support Girls' Education Because…

Girls' Globe blogger Elisabeth Epstein raises her hand for girls' education.
Girls’ Globe blogger Elisabeth Epstein raises her hand for girls’ education.

On my 16th birthday, I was excited to get my driver’s license. As the first of my friends to turn 16, I was anxious to drive my friends around independent from my parents. I was happy that my mom no longer had to drive me to school (how embarrassing, right?). I was foolish. I did not realize how lucky I was to go to school.

In 2009, Malala Yousafzai, a 15 year old Pakistani girl, made headlines when BBC published her diary. Malala’s personal accounts of gender inequities and restricted access to education gave the world its first glimpse of life under Taliban law. Two years later, her popularity grew as Desmond Tutu nominated her for the International Children’s Peace Prize and Pakistan’s Prime Minister awarded her with the country’s first National Youth Peace Prize.*

Due to her rising popularity and national recognition, the Taliban viewed her as a threat – for how could anyone challenge Taliban law, particularly a young girl? In order to quell Malala’s growing network of supporters, the Taliban took drastic action.

I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is an education. And I’m afraid of no one. ~ Malala Yousafzai

On October 9th, 2012, the Taliban sought to forever silence Malala and shot her in the head and neck. Although initially in critical condition, Malala miraculously survived only to become stronger than ever. Her story of infallible courage, which has since garnered international attention, has catapulted the fight for universal access to education to new heights.

Since the attack, Malala not only has inspired countless education advocates, but she has also launched the Malala Fund, an organization which aims to support the education and empowerment of girls in Pakistan and around the world. Additionally, Malala has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People as well as nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – the youngest nominee in Nobel Prize history.

On Friday, July 12th – less than one year after her attempted assassination – Malala turns 16 years old. Rather than celebrating her birthday by gallivanting around town with friends in the family car, Malala will be speaking to the United Nations, giving voice to the 66 million girls around the world still unable to go to school.

They will not stop me. I will get my education if it is in home, school, or any place. ~ Malala Yousafzai

This Friday, now globally known as Malala Day, symbolizes the extraordinary power of courage, of education, of girls.

Image Courtesy of Time Magazine
Image Courtesy of Time Magazine

Here are five ways YOU can help:

  1. Sign the petition urging the United Nations to fund more global initiatives to ensure the world achieves Millennium Development Goal #2 – universal education for both boys and girls.
  2. Use Instagram and Vine! Raise your hand and tell the world why you believe in girls’ right to education. Tag photos with #MalalaDay and #bcimagirl.
  3. Explain to your friends on Facebook why Malala Day is so important. Raising awareness is crucial!
  4. Join the conversation on Twitter!  Use #MalalaDay and #bcimagirl to share your thoughts, opinions, and ideas about Malala and her fight to achieve universal access to education for children around the world.
  5. Donate to the Malala Fund and support the advancement of universal access to education around the world.

To learn more about Malala’s story, please see the following:

More of a visual learner? Watch these videos to discover more:

*This annual award is now known as the National Malala Peace Prize.  

Cover image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

CSW57: Eliminating and Preventing Gender-Based Violence

Image Courtesy of UN Women.
Image Courtesy of UN Women.

This week marks the start of the 57th annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Beginning March 4th and continuing until March 15th, international policymakers will convene in New York City to address this year’s theme: “elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

Established in 1946 by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the mission of CSW is to prepare recommendations and reports that promote women’s rights across political, economic, civil, social and educational realms. International recommendations for eliminating and preventing violence against women and girls could not have come any sooner. In recent months, acts of tremendous violence against women have occurred around the world.

INDIA: In the past few months, multiple cases of vicious sexual assault have sparked women’s rights protests throughout the nation. In December, a New Delhi woman was gang-raped on a bus and died two weeks later from injuries sustained by her abusers. Escalating India’s anti-rape protests, January brought the case of a 29-year-old woman destined for Gurdaspur who was driven to an unfamiliar village where she suffered from repeated gang-rape. The 29-year-old woman also died as a result of the attack.

SOUTH AFRICA: The controversial case involving Olympian Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, caught the world’s attention.  Not only did Pistorius allegedly shoot and kill Steenkamp, but the incident also occurred on Valentine’s Day, the same day women around the world participated in One Billion Rising to advocate against gender based violence.

PAKISTAN: Malala Yousafzai only wanted to attend school and gain an education. As a result of her strong belief that every girl has a right to an education, young Malala suffered an assassination attempt by The Taliban. Surviving and obtaining more international support than ever, Malala created The Malala Fund to improve opportunities for girls’ education around the world.

Not only a problem in developing countries, 83 percent of girls aged 12 to 16 experience sexual harassment in UNITED STATES’ public schools. Additionally, 40 to 70 percent of female murder victims in AUSTRALIA and CANADA are killed as a result of domestic violence. In 2011, one Gallup poll measured the gender safety gap by asking women and men from 143 countries if they felt safe walking alone at night. Results from the survey indicated high-income countries accounted for six of the top ten nations with highest gender safety gaps.* 

Globally, at least one in three women and girls is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.

Although only a glimpse of the international phenomenon of violence against women, the three aforementioned cases and horrific statistics demonstrate a stark need to advocate for women’s rights around the world.

We can only hope this year’s CSW establishes practical solutions for reducing such gender-based violence.

*NEW ZEALAND, ITALY, FRANCE, AUSTRALIA, THE UNITED STATES and FINLAND ranked among the top ten countries with highest gender safety gaps.