I’m blogging today to add my voice to the hundreds of other bloggers contributing to the second Girl Effect campaign organized by my friend and colleague, Tara Mohr. We’re writing on a topic that makes me uncomfortable because I feel overwhelmed and saddened by it: the predicament of girls in the developing world. I’m writing because I long to be part of the change that is possible for girls and women everywhere. This campaign is inspired by The Girl Effect, an organization that raises awareness and mobilizes action to help these girls impact their own lives and the lives of their families and communities. Read moving and lovely posts by hundreds of other bloggers on October 4.
The message is simple.
Girls are in trouble, and given the chance, girls are uniquely capable of investing in their communities and making their lives, and the lives of their brothers, sisters and communities, better. Investing in girls is a strategy that works. Its been shown that when women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.
Yet the international aid and development machine invests only 2 cents for every dollar on girls? Yup. Two pennies. They pretty much don’t stand a chance where resources are concerned. The message to them is that girls don’t matter. From within their own communities, the message is even worse: your situation sucks and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. You will never be any different from what you see all around you. You’ll be poor, uneducated, unhealthy and disempowered. For the rest of your life.
Here are some of the facts that make me squirm:
- Today, more than 600 million girls live in the developing world.
- Approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries are not in school.
- One-quarter to one-half of girls in developing countries become mothers before age 18; 14 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth in developing countries each year.
- 75 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds living with HIV in Africa are female, up from 62 percent in 2001.
I worked in international development for a decade, in Africa and India. I knew the girls behind the statistics. And while I left because I was sickened by what happens in the name of development when large organizations moving lots of money around are involved, I’m not done with the work, nor am I able to let go of what drew me to it in the first place. It was the missed opportunity I saw in those amazing children. The girls I met, the girls who shared with me their hearts, broke mine. And now that I have a daughter, I’m unable to turn away from the girls in these videos and statistics even though it hurts to know the details of their lives and the extent to which change is not happening in a widespread way.
What to do?
Here’s the hard part. How can any of us possibly make a difference? I struggle with how to get involved in this massive worldwide problem, and what might happen if I do. I think about disappointment, futility, all the potential roadblocks to success for these girls. I can feel cynical about outside involvement in the affairs of a community. And then I think about the simple facts above, and how little it can take to change a life. So I go to what’s clear for me today, to what feels supportive of these girls. I listen to their stories. I feel their pain. I share their hopes. I spread their message.
And this shifts those feelings of inadequacy and despair. This is no less real than building a bridge or digging a well. This is involvement too.
We all know the power of listening while someone speaks, or of being listened to. We’re granting power to the possibility of change when we watch videos like these. When we soften our hearts to injustice, rather than hardening them. When we move from frustration and outrage, to creativity and possibility. I love how women so often come together around an issue that starts off thorny and challenging, and by feeding it with compassion and insight are able to find ways forward. A particularly powerful aspect of the feminine is our tendency toward collaboration and connection.We have a unique ability to nurture and allow, to incubate and set free. Let’s call upon our strengths as women to help girls effect the change they so desperately seek.
Are you moved to learn more? Want to participate in The Girl Effect?
Join the campaign! Write about The Girl Effect at your blog this week, October 4-11, 2011.
Learn more here. Link your post to the campaign, and add your voice. There’s no better way to fuel the Girl Effect than by spreading the word and letting others know what it’s all about.