by Abesi Manyando: Gender Disparity plagues the advancement of girls and women on multiple cultural, political and social levels. Issues such as educational inequality, gender violence, forced child marriages and female genital mutilation debilitates the growth and success of many girls. I wanted to bring awareness to these issues and highlight a few phenomenal women who are making strides to make life easier for girls in this world. Michelle Obama, Chimamande Ngozi Adichie, Gelila Bekele, Waris Dirie, and Amel Larrieux’s actions are instrumental in changing the trajectory for girls in 2016.
On March 8th, Social media was set ablaze with beautiful tributes for International Women’s day. March in itself is Women’s History month as well. I was both ecstatic and concerned because although we have made strides there are still so many issues that unjustly impacts girls and women in every corner of the globe. Gender parity, abuse and inequality is still very much a thing. Access to education, traditional genital mutilation, and the lack of freedom is all very real today. Yet, when a woman dare speaks up about inequality, she is then branded as an anti-male bitter feminist. I think it is a crime for us to not pay attention to the issues that affect women every day but even more importantly issues that affect powerless young girls all over the world.
In 2016, there are still girls in the United States getting kidnapped and trafficked everyday. Goldia Coldon, the mother of Phoenix Coldon, a young college student who disappeared in St. Louis is still waiting for her daughter to be found. Despite not having the necessary help required to find her daughter she is relentless in her search. “I know she is out there, somewhere and I pray the Lord sends his Warriors to rescue her,” she said to me. In Nigeria there are girls getting kidnapped, raped and murdered by Boko Haram in broad daylight. When the #Bringbackourgirls campaign was a headline story, many people cared and now that our news has become fixated by Trump, O.J, reality shows etc, we have forgotten that many girls have not been returned home by the militant group, Boko Haram. In fact, Boko Haram is still raiding schools. Do people even know the reason? Do they know that many of Boko Haram’s attacks at primary and secondary girls schools are triggered by their stance against girls receiving education? We celebrated Women’s day in 2016, but something as simple as learning how to read is the cause of girls being murdered in parts of our world? Because education is the key to empowerment, financial freedom and slight equality and access? This in itself threatens some cultures social structure. In Pakistan, 16 year old Malala Yousafzai almost didn’t survive the bullets that nearly infiltrated her cerebrum because she advocated for girls’ rights to learn. The Taliban had intended to kill her just because the young student wanted all girls to have a chance at education. We have to do better in not just talking and writing about these issues but taking action, even in small ways. We must engage with the United Nations and see what is being done to close the gaps of disparity and end human rights violations against girls too. Here are a few women and causes that we should all support..
1, Fist Lady, Michelle Obama’s 62 million girls campaign and Let Girls Learn focuses on elevating girls to higher heights through global primary education. The website states that, “To educate a girl is to build a healthier family, a stronger community, and a brighter future. Unfortunately today, 62 million girls around the world are not in school. Half of them are adolescents. We know that countries with more girls in secondary school tend to have lower maternal mortality rates, lower infant mortality rates, lower rates of HIV/AIDS, and better child nutrition. But too often, a girl who could change her world for the better is locked out of that future by the circumstances of her birth or the customs of her community.”
2. Chimamande Ngozi Adichie is a scholar and writer whose work has empowered many girls to embrace their own power and not be afraid to succeed despite traditional bearings. Adichie’s “We should all be feminists” challenges gender inequalities that limits girls and raises boys to think they are superior by human nature. Adichie questions the premises of preconceived notions that brand women to be less important then men. Through her work, Adichie is changing how girls view themselves and their place in our social structure. Adichie writes, “We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man. If you are the breadwinner in your relationship with a man, pretend that you are not, especially in public, otherwise you will emasculate him.”
3. Model, Filmmaker and Humanitarian, Gelila Bekele’s Charity Water project has had over 6,185 water projects funded in 19 countries with almost 2 million people served. Like in Flint, Michigan, the lack of access to clean water is a major contributing factor in illness leading to death. According to the 2015 World Economic Forum, “The Water crisis is the number one global risk based on impact to society as a measure of devastation.” Founded by Scott Harrison, Charity Water provides basic clean drinking water to impoverished regions that don’t have access to clean water. “Charity Water is an amazing organization that is dear to my heart, I am proud to be a part of the organization and will continue to support it for many years to come,” said Bekele on her website. On twitter, Bekele also brought up an issue that impacts many girls and that is child marriages. Bekele tweeted a video from Global Citizen that showed how people reacted to the idea of child brides.
Not to underscore the fact that some customs are based on historical tradition, cultural norms and at times driven by poverty but more than 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. According to The World Bank, “When girls marry early, they often drop out of school, have more children over their lifetime, are at greater risk of HIV infection and intimate partner violence. They face serious health complications and even death from early pregnancy and childbearing. Child brides are often isolated, with limited opportunity to participate in the development of their communities. Child marriage therefore hampers efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable global development.”
4. Before becoming a highly recognized model, Waris Dirie escaped being a 13 year old Somali child bride by running away in the middle of the night. After attaining fame she used her platform to create social and legal change pertaining to child marriages and traditional female genital mutilation. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, appointed her as UN Special Ambassador for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation.In 2002, Waris Dirie started her own organization, the Waris Dirie Foundation, based in Vienna. The foundation launches worldwide public awareness campaigns against Female Genital Mutilation and supports existing campaigns. Furthermore, it supports victims directly and offers a helpdesk for them, and an information service for activists, supporters and press via the email email@example.com. Up to now more than 60.000 people from all over the world took advantage of this unique services.
In 2007 Safa Idriss Nour received the opportunity to play a young Waris in the film Desert Flower with the condition attached that Nour’s parents wold not subject Nour to genital mutilation. The family agreed and Nour played the role. Four years later they had second thoughts but Waris intervened before Nour underwent genital mutilation. Read more on Waris’ site
5. Singer, Amel Larrieux has used her angelic vocals to bring attention to many of the issues that have been discussed. Infusing a catchy pop melody with a house track and poignant lyrics, Amel like Waris specifically brought to light the horrific impact of genital mutilation in her song “Bravebird.” In a 2005 Barnes and Nobles interview Amel shared that Bravebird was composed after she read a story about a survivor of female genital mutilation. “I guess it was my gift to her to extol her bravery.”
So, sometimes our gifts and efforts to advance the lives of girls and women can come through a path of activism like Malala or it may come from supporting organizations and women like First Lady Michelle Obama, Gelila Bekele and Waris Dire. At other times it can come through intellectual creativity and not being silent like Amel Larrieux and Chimamande Ngozi Adichie. What ever it is that we do, it should at least move us closer to changing the disparities and circumstances that limit girls from rising and sometimes just simply living to see another day.
written by Abesi Manyando