Picture this: You’re a sixteen year old girl, you’re standing on stage, everyone is looking directly at you, all ready to listen and
give you their undivided attention. You’re about to speak to a room full of your peers and teachers. You’re about to talk about something personal, something you’re proud of, but it’s something you wrote without thinking it would be shared with anyone, let alone the whole school. You’re nervous right? Terrified even?
Now, picture this: You’re still a sixteen year old girl, except now, you have no stage to stand on, no one to look at you. You have no voice; no one is even there to listen. You’ve got nothing to read aloud, because you don’t know how to read; you don’t even know how to write. You’re terrified, not because everyone knows you are there, but because no one does. And what’s this about teachers? School? You’ve never had any of that.
Now, I’m not sure about you, but I’d much rather be put into the temporarily unnerving situation of having to read out loud something I’d written to the entire school, rather than face a lifetime where I know I’d never get that opportunity, or a life where I didn’t even have an education or even go to school. And that is exactly what I did.
On the International Day of the Girl, along with the rest of my high school feminism class, I had to present an assembly based on a movement aimed toward advocating the rights for girls all around the world.
I was one of the students who read an excerpt from my own personal essay on intersectionality. It was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve had to do. I’ve never been good at public speaking, especially to a group of people I hardly know. It was very personal writing the essay on intersectionality, however, reading it out loud to the school felt liberating and is something I am proud of.
I had a million moments of hesitation and “freak outs” before presenting, it wasn’t until I was halfway through reading my essay that I realized what I was really doing. I was making a change, I was speaking out, I was sharing something I believe in – and oh boy, did it feel great. You see, it wasn’t just another boring, pointless school assembly. This assembly we were presenting was something very important, something we can all connect with, something that needed to be shared.
You see, when I was waiting for my turn to take the stage, I was listening to my fellow peers talk about what it was we were actually trying to represent with this assembly. There are many girls in the world who don’t have the same opportunities, as we do, who don’t have anything, but want the chance to create something for themselves.
We were there, speaking for all the girls in the world who suffer discrimination, harassment, abuse, and trafficking. We were there to speak for those who are denied the opportunity to receive an education simply for the genitalia they just so happened to be born with.
Once I got onto the stage, and started reading, I realized that this wasn’t just about me, but it was about all women and all girls all around the world. I was offered the opportunity to be a part of something important, something needed, and there I was, center stage. Even though I only spoke for two minutes, I was still there and I was still heard. I was a voice in the movement of International Day of the Girl and a voice to all the millions of girls who have their voices denied the opportunity to be heard.
My piece of the intersectionality essay that I read out loud was probably one of the least “personal” parts of my essay, however it was the one part that I felt was a contrast to what most around me had experienced, and was something that was also relatable. I spoke about my time in my old school back in Australia, and how characteristically different it was from my school now.
I wrote: “The school never drew attention to people’s differences or uniqueness. I feel as if the school tried to create people to be the same, or at least that is how I felt…” This line pretty adequately sums up what the rest of my speech was about, but then I elaborated on the importance of not being the same, of being different. I quoted the famous feminist Audre Lorde, whose writing helped support my idea of everyone standing up and celebrating their differences rather than shy away from them. In her essay, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” she wrote: “It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish.”
Watching my fellow students take the stage helped drive home the concept that girls are still a long way from being recognized and allowed their basic human rights. Numerous statistics and facts were presented that shocked many people. The staggering idea that less than 50 percent – yes, that’s right less than 50 percent of girls above the age of eleven attend secondary school in developing countries. According to The World Bank Education Statistics Newsletter released in August 2011, 67 million children are out-of-school worldwide , with around 35 million of those children being girls.
The idea that 75 percent of girls aged between 15 and 24 years old are living with HIV in Africa, up from 62 percent in 2001 is disturbing. Is it just me, or shouldn’t numbers like these decrease over time, not keep shooting up? Where has the prevention been, the awareness?
Adding to the facts, child marriage and early childbirth are constant recurring problems among girls, when one out of seven girls marries before the age of fifteen in a developing country. With up to one-half of girls becoming mothers before the age of 18, 14 million of them give birth each year in developing countries. Now, there are numerous amounts of facts on girls regarding health, safety, education and social status in developing countries, however, I believe those few facts are still enough for someone to realize that something is really, very wrong here.
We have partnered with an all-girls school in Kolkata, India called Shri Shikshayatan. The school is in a country where women’s rights are horribly disregarded. India is the third highest country with the number of most female out-of-school children from 2007-2011 that number being a staggering 3,781,495 girls – in India alone. Having the opportunity to work alongside a school such as Shri Shikshayatan has truly been a privilege, how many people get to look inside a school in which is so rare, especially to the area in which it is located? It warms my heart to know that these girls are offered an education, that they have been given a safe place go, to have the opportunity to get everything they can out of their lives.
We must all celebrate the first ever International Day of the Girl because there is still so much that needs to be done, not just in developing countries, but in Western countries as well. Each of us, every woman and every man has a story to tell and has faced some kind of oppression in their lives. However it is women’s oppression that often goes unnoticed because it is something everyone has grown to accept or has just “swept under the rug”, it is something that has been with us our whole lives and we have not had a world where oppression isn’t held against women, so how can we know any different?
Well, I’ll tell you how – women have a voice, and it’s getting stronger and it’s starting to be heard. I’m realizing mine, I’ve already shared it with my school and I know it’s getting louder. International Day of the Girl is one day for us all to have the chance to find that voice, and to then use it and scream at the top of our lungs.
This is another step in relinquishing the world of women’s oppression and we will continue to take another, then another and another until we reach our goals. It may not be in this lifetime, but don’t believe that just because you are one person you don’t have any impact in this movement, because you do. One voice will turn into two, two will turn into three and before you know it, we will have all women around the world sharing their voice, and by then everyone will be listening. International Day of the Girl isn’t just one day, it’s an eternity.