The Voices of Eternity: Celebrating International Day of the Girl

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

Here I am reading an excerpt from my intersectionality essay for the International Day of the Girl assembly (photo credit: Laura Hahn).

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.

My feminism class gathered before our International Day of the Girl assembly (photo credit: Laura Hahn).

11 thoughts on “The Voices of Eternity: Celebrating International Day of the Girl

  1. Reading your blog post I could immediately relate to your feeling of nervousness about having to speak at an assembly in front of your peers. In my blog post, I also wrote about the idea of being nervous from the pressure of having to share with “strangers” a piece of writing that is personal, versus the realization that many girls do not have a chance to speak up or to have a say. This realization also led to a feeling of liberation and the assembly as a whole became “something I am proud of”. Even though I was proud of what we had accomplished by doing the assembly, I further realized that International Day of the Girl “wasn’t just about [us] but it was about all women and all girls around the world” while reading your post. We made the assembly, and shared our pieces of writings in order to make a change and bring awareness to our community. Like you said, “women have a voice, and it’s getting stronger and it’s starting to be heard”. On the other hand one feedback I do have is that, even though I do think the facts are very powerful, I also believe that your piece is strongest in the bits and pieces in which your feelings come through. It is easier for me to relate to your voice then to the data.

  2. I think we all had those on stage jitters, though I too, really enjoyed how you contrasted the two sides of being nervous to speak in front of everyone listening and not being able to speak because no one listens. I feel this was important for many reasons. This introduction helped draw in the reader because it was engaging, and by leading them through the simulation of what to think they got to be in your shoes. Then, when you flipped the script and told them to imagine the exact opposite you managed to explain situation of girls in other countries as well and show how wrong it is but then also allow the reader to see the opportunity and privilege you had. This was also reiterated when you say, “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”. This was interesting to me because based on your introduction the reader is already feeling this privilege, and then you lead them through your emotions and catch up to them in a way, by then telling how you came to realize your privilege in the moment. Almost non-linear story telling, where you show us the end result and then how you got there. It was very touching to read.

  3. I love how you describe the nervousness you felt, especially with reading something so personal that you had written yourself. Your descriptions allow me to really visualize the way you were feeling. I particularly enjoyed your first two paragraphs where you write about what was going on at the assembly and what is going on all over the world with girls who have been deprived of education. This comparison really made me realize how privileged we are and made me feel more empowered because we are able to have voices and speak on the behalf of girls around the world, while some girls are silenced.

  4. I found it interesting how you explored the differences between your old school in Australia and your current school at LREI. When you mentioned how your old school “drew attention to people’s differences or uniqueness,” reminded me of on the first day of your feminism class, we spoke of the boxes and barriers that society expects men and women both to live by and then placed into school where the students were all being programmed the same way.

  5. Wow! I love your writing style and the way that you wrote your piece like a story. I like how you started your introduction to this piece because this really makes the reader get a sensation of what’s it like to be on your shoes and the shoes of an uneducated and unprivileged girl. I really appreciate the emotions that you shared in your piece, such as feeling a bit nervous before reading out loud your intersectionality essay. You really want to make a change to give girls the education and safety that they need. Some schools don’t recognize these kinds of issues around the world and educate their students about it. We are lucky to be taking a feminism class, especially in high school. I believe in your idea about one change can make a difference. Just like the ripple effect, if we can change a girl and give her a voice, she will do the same to another girl, and so on forth. great writing and keep going!

  6. I wanna start by saying, fabulous job! I loved the way you started your blog off. I was instantly engaged. I also really enjoyed hearing the statistics reiterated through you blog. I thought it was a great way to really drive your point home. It allowed me to truly grasp the atrocities going on around us and how important it is for us, the people, to act out and demand change. I felt by the end of the blog when you were discussing your voice becoming louder I could relate entirely. I feel like my voice is growing by the day and is making me feel the need for other voices to be heard as well. We live in a world that unfortunately trains the majority of women to feel less than comfortable speaking out and demanding their voices be heard. This is something I hope to change, and clearly you’ll join me in the fight.
    Bravo!

  7. Your post was both relatable and brutally honest. Reading about how nervous and anxious you were brought back my own feelings of anxiety before reading parts of my essay in front of the school. Yet when you switched to what the girls in developing countries must feel like, I quickly realized that our nerve-racking experience was only temporary, and once shared was liberating and exhilarating, while the troubles for girls in these countries seem to be never-ending. These girls do not have the voice that we do, nor the security of being seen as we do, and I love how you indicate the stark differences between our lives and theirs. I also love the flow of your writing and how I can almost hear your voice animated with passion as I read your experiences as well as the statistics you gave. You are right, where is the awareness? That is exactly why International Day of the Girl is so important. You did an amazing job, thank you for sharing. I really enjoyed reading 🙂

  8. Like Cesar, I absolutely adore your writing style. I found myself smiling when you opened your piece with “picture this.” It told me and your audience that you were commanding everyone’s attention. And everyone was giving it. I appreciate the tone of your writing because it hints to a call for action. One person, one girl, can make a difference. You made me realize that every one of us has a chance to be inspirational and take action and I believe that was our mission for International Day of the Girl.

    I liked the story telling aspect and the readability of your post, which lends itself to certain level of versatility. But this did not distract from how dire our cause was, it did not dumb it down or dress it up. Instead it felt as though you were opening your heart, mind and soul in way that was relatable and inspirational: ” [You were] making a change, [you were] speaking out, [you were] sharing something [you] believe in… we were presenting was something very important, something we can all connect with, something that needed to be shared.”

    Your post was daunting because it hits hard and aims for the heart. You are passionate and thrilling and I want to read more from you!

  9. As everyone else has already said, I loved how you started your post! Most people (including myself) largely wrote a summary of the events, but your piece really pulled me in. I could feel what it was like to be you, nervous to speak in front of a large audience of your peers, and I could feel what it was like to be a girl who didn’t even know how to read or write, let alone had attended school. It really made me feel everything that this day is about and how important what we are trying to accomplish is. If we can help even a few girls in situations like the one you described, we will have made an important difference! “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.” I have felt this way too! I am beginning to realize that what I and my classmates are trying to accomplish by speaking out about the oppression of women is part of a necessary and exciting change, both in America (on this crazy election night) and around the world!

  10. I loved the way that you set up two contrasting situations, and I particularly thought that the passage were you write, “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.” really communicated your desire to emphasize the difference between these two hypothetical sixteen year-old girls. I liked it because forced me to imagine myself in the situation you described, and therefore place myself in someone else’s shoes.
    I found that the simplicity of “There are many girls in the world who…want to chance to create something for themselves.” to be quite touching. The fact that you used the word “something” left this open to so many possibilities. “Something” is anything, and it is true that these girls dream of becoming “something”, because anything is possible.

    You pose some perfectly understandable questions about the number of girls and young women living with HIV in Africa. I think it would have helped to really emphasize the point that women face countless oppressions if you had given some sort of short response to them.

    I really enjoyed the part where you write, “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”. Here, you used such a beautiful and powerful analogy to describe women speaking up and changing the world. Not only does it describe women gaining confidence and strength, but it also communicates the idea that IDG is an event that brings the voices of women and girls together, and creates a powerful collective voice.

  11. Terrific post! Like your peers in the class, I really love the opening to this post. Successful writing for a blog needs to be smart and engaging like this. I’m impressed with the way you were able to merge both your personal response to the issues we have covered with an analytical take on it as well; that is also a mark of great blogging. I am thrilled that you felt so empowered by this assembly and by our study of global girls’ education.

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