Around the world, 66 million girls are going without education. That’s bad for them, bad for society. We can change it
Friday is International Day of the Girl, which means that, by tomorrow, the brief frenzy of outrage elicited by articles like this will have passed. This is human nature; I’ll be the first to admit that thinking about the scope of international female suffering often makes me feel like a metronome swaying between rage and despair. Because I know that globally a little girl is still worthless compared to her brothers. And because this makes no damn sense.
I take the long view. We are shortchanging humanity both economically and intellectually by throwing away the potential of our girls. As of this moment, 66 million of them do not get an education. There will be 14 million child brides in 2013 – that’s 13 little ones who were smeared in garish makeup and married since you began this paragraph. And 150 million girls are sexually assaulted each year, half of whom are barely pubescent.
It feels almost impossible to visualize these numbers and easier to just move on with the day. It is reasonable to conclude that until the last fundamentalist beheads a woman, we are doomed never to experience the true interdependence of men and women that we know we are capable of.
For sure, the day when the world’s girls are free from fear may be dismally far in the future. But I have seen the stuff they are made of, as I travel from nation to nation with Plan International. It has become strikingly clear to me how often the boundaries of females are casually breached. I have seen forced tiny prostitutes with dark circles under their eyes, child brides who died in childbirth – their bodies too underdeveloped to handle the stress, adolescents hobbled and feverish from extreme genital mutilation.
Like you, I have felt the agonies of empathy as I thought about Jyoti, my Indian sister gang-raped to death with a metal pole on a bus, or of Malala from Pakistan being shot in the head for simply asking to be a full human being. For simply wanting to learn.
And yet … how many girls have I met on my travels who have endured the worst but tell me they are not broken! Who clamor for education so they can become doctors or accountants! Who beg for birth control. Who come up with detailed plans to make their villages prosperous, but lack any backing to make their visions a reality.
We owe it to these small, bright sparks of humanity to overcome our world-weariness and take decisive, practical action, right now, before the browser refreshes. Clicking through to Girl Rising, for example, reveals how education shatters entrenched patterns of poverty and violence in just one generation. How can this be? Educated girls marry later and have fewer, healthier children. They participate in the labor force or start small businesses. Their work boosts their local economy and they put money aside to educate their daughters as well as their sons.
Crucially, these young women model different ways of being and relating to their sons. Men are the most powerful and vital allies a woman can have in the developing world, and in many cases, they are the key to allowing a girl to attend school. Men born to educated mothers are inclined to do just that.
We must refuse to let let this day pass by like a meaningless milestone. We must take action, with pride, knowing that there will be a ripple effect. Each of us will be directly affecting a girl’s subsequent economic potential and the fate of her future boys and girls. The gesture will be felt down the generations. By educating a girl today, you will change the world.