Bringing Change to Our Community: Reflections on International Day of the Girl

My high school feminism class on International Day of the Girl 2012 (photo credit: Laura Hahn).

I was part of organizing and delivering an assembly for International Day of the Girl. This experience was truly remarkable. It gave me satisfaction to watch my peers in the audience as they made a connection to us as presenters as well as to the videos we played about girls’ education across the world.

My role in the assembly was to read a piece from my essay “Confusion,” which discusses intersectionality within my life and in connection to feminism. I had expected that sharing a personal essay with an audience of peers would make it difficult for them to relate my story to the assembly, but I left the stage with a strong feeling of connection.

I could tell that the audience felt my pain when I talked about delicate moments, such as my grandmother exclaiming, “Thank God she is white!” when she first saw me after I was born. Furthermore, I strongly believe that my role, and that of everyone else in the class who read her intersectional essay, was especially important to getting our message across that girls today are still mistreated, even in America.

This truth is something that underlies our society’s basic conventions. I believe the fact that these essays were so personal made them have a bigger impact, and helped the audience realize that these issues affect all of our lives.

Watching my peers in the assembly was certainly what made me understand the importance of what we were doing. When we screened the Girl Effect video, the expressions of my peers in the audience were both mad and shocked, especially when they saw the parts about how girls around the world might be married and pregnant by 14. If they survive childbirth, in order to provide for their families, they might have to sell their bodies and be exposed to diseases such as HIV.

However, I noticed that the audience members also became hopeful when they learned that there is a way out: instead of forcing girls to live that horrible truth, we can give them an education.

I could see my own reaction within my peers’ expressions, and it made me feel as if what we were doing by organizing the assembly was truly important. It made me as if people were getting it, as if they were not simply feeling pity for me, my peers, and the girls in the videos, but were instead supportive of us and of the issue as a whole.

However, when my classmate Adam mentioned that “40% of India’s children aged six to eighteen do not go to school,” the solution of education offered by the Girl Effect video became less obvious. Privileged people tend not to think about their privilege; they often assume that opportunities such as going to school are naturally handed to everybody.

Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz, an Arab-Jewish feminist says in her essay “Organizing 101” in the book Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism writes: “We live in a white supremacist culture that banks on dichotomous thinking to keep people divided and fragmented within themselves.” Her point is important because it suggests that society is committed to divisions between certain groups. As a result, people are inclined to assume that what they have is available to everyone else, in turn leading others without these privileges to feel that they do not belong. Indeed, we often to look upon other communities as lower than we are, as lesser. Here is when the human connection stops and the hierarchy of oppression begins.

And yet, it was clear that when Adam’s facts were absorbed by the listeners, they began to develop deep feelings about the issue. That is why being part of the IDG assembly made me feel like part of a larger celebration across our school and the world; it made me feel as if the day was truly important and something to remember.

It felt as if we – girls and boys, were both part of and not part of the feminism class – as well as the girls at our partner school, Shri Shikshayatan in Kolkata, India, were together with everyone else in the world. We were all celebrating one thing, united, marking the importance of girls and the magnitude of girls’ issues.

During the assembly itself and the time spent organizing it, I was hoping most to make an impact, an impact strong enough to lead people to take action for girls’ rights. As Somaly Mam, a Cambodian woman who was forced into prostitution, says in the documentary Half the Sky: “We can all make a change, we can all just do one thing, [we just need to] start from what our heart wants.”

She is indeed the best example of this. After being freed from the brothel she was forced into, she opened the Somaly Mam Foundation to help children who have been forced into sex slavery as she was. She rescues girls, rehabilitates them, and reintegrates them into the world as strong, independent, Cambodian women.  Her foundation is based on her motto, “Envisioning a world where women and children are safe from slavery.”

Now, after having presented the assembly, I feel as if we accomplished exactly that. We did something, and even though it was just within our community, my hope is that it will lead others to do become involved in the injustice perpetrated against girls all over the world.

International Day of the Girl is once a year, but that does not change the fact that girls are in need for their basic human rights every day. As Somaly Mam would say, “we can all do something,” small or big, and it will make a change.

8 thoughts on “Bringing Change to Our Community: Reflections on International Day of the Girl

  1. “As a result, people are inclined to assume that what they have is available to everyone else”

    I definitely agree with this. People tend to think what they have or experience is the norm. I think this is not only related to people of privilege, but also those who are not as privileged. People who are oppressed might think that is the norm, therefore they might think nothing can get better.

  2. I think that it is great that you left the stage on our International Day of the Girl assembly feeling good about yourself. It is good that you didn’t feel like an outsider on stage, but instead, you felt that the audience really understood your confusions and struggles to fit in to your family standards. The one line I really like from your piece is “Privileged people tend not to think about their privilege; they often assume that opportunities such as going to school are naturally handed to everybody.” This is especially true here in America where every child is given the right to go to school and get educated, whether from a low or high income class or is a man or woman. In other countries, that is not the case. Some have to travel miles to get to the nearest school and it is nearly impossible for them to do so. But just as Somaly Mam said, “we can all do something” to change it, and I believe in that statement 100%. Great writing!

  3. I liked your intersectionality essay during the assembly and now like it even more. I feel like this is because on stage you didn’t have time to go into this detail and branch these connections between your life and your example of intersectionality to feminism as you did in this piece. You had various references to foundations and essays from different writers. I was very fond of the Lisa Wiener-Mahfuz quote particularly, “We live in a white supremacist culture that banks on dichotomous thinking to keep people divided and fragmented within themselves.” The in-depth close reading of the quote was perfect.
    Something I enjoyed about your piece was that you kept going back to how you felt throughout your post, reflection on what your thought process was during the assembly.

  4. I loved your connection to our peers in your blog post. As I was completely absorbed in our performance, and my own, you noticed the shock and anger as unnerving images and statistics were relayed to them as well as the slight relief when they realized there are ways they can help. You mentioned that it truly “made [you] feel as if what we were doing by organizing the assembly was truly important. And feelings life these are exactly what we need in order for people to recognize the issues that are going on abroad. I like that you also mentioned your feeling of unification with the audience as well as with the girls in developing countries by celebrating International Day of the Girl and holding an assembly. Great work!

  5. “When my classmate Adam mentioned that “40% of India’s children aged six to eighteen do not go to school,” the solution of education offered by the Girl Effect video became less obvious. Privileged people tend not to think about their privilege; they often assume that opportunities such as going to school are naturally handed to everybody.” I felt exactly the same when I heard this. Before taking this feminism class, I was only vaguely aware of the number of children, especially young girls, how cannot afford, cannot get to, or are not allowed to attend school. Although educating all young women, and men, is both the easiest and best solution for creating a better society, with healthier and better off children and families, we are nowhere near close to our goal. However, this statistic is only an incentive to keep moving forward and creating change wherever we can.

  6. “Thank God she is white!” This was something that I think struck a lot of people when you said this in you’re essay. It’s such a dangerous statement, but I feel like you finally said something that a lot of people have always thought: the lighter the better. Personally, I always experience that within my family because we are so mixed. I’m lighter than some of my family and darker than some. I also talked about the fact that mixed race families want a child who is as light as possible.

    I also liked the way you gave a synopsis of the audience’s reactions. “It made me as if people were getting it, as if they were not simply feeling pity for me, my peers, and the girls in the videos, but were instead supportive of us and of the issue as a whole.”
    Many of our blogposts reflect how we felt standing on that stage and why it was important to us to teach our audience, but I liked the way that you explained why it was important to the audience, because it gives the entire experience more depth.

    I also like you’re writing style, which is very clear and straight-forward. I think that’s why your essay was so successful, was because you ripped off the band-aid instead of the kind “oh we don’t talk about that” approach that our society often adopts, because it’s an awkward conversation for many people. Just as you said, we don’t like to talk about our privilege, which in a way perpetuates itself: “Indeed, we often to look upon other communities as lower than we are, as lesser. Here is when the human connection stops and the hierarchy of oppression begins.” This was so cleverly stated because you tie it all together by making a connection between privilege and the way oppression takes place.

  7. Our role was indeed “important to getting our message across that girls today are still mistreated, even in America”, but I also think it was important because the personal connections in your essays built a bridge between the experiences of girls in America, and experiences of girls throughout the world. When simply given facts about oppression, it can be difficult for one to relate to the issue. However, the beautiful stories that you and the other students wrote brought those issues home, and basically informed our fellow students that although these women/girls in other countries face oppressions that are more blatant, women/girls living in America are not exempt from these oppressions; although the methods are much more clandestine in America, the sting of oppression is the same.

    I agree with you when you talk about how you “could see [your] own reaction within [your] peers’ expressions” I definitely saw that as well. The videos we showed, such as the Girl Effect video, were extremely powerful, and it filled me with pride to see our peers responding to the images and information in the same way that I did when I first saw it.

    You hit it right on the nail when you express that “privileged people tend not to think about their privilege; they often assume that opportunities…are naturally handed to everybody”. Oftentimes, having privilege is like standing on the reflective side of a one way mirror. It is nearly impossible to become aware ones’ privilege, unless one takes a look inside of their privilege through the other side of the glass.

  8. Wonderful post! Sharing an excerpt from your intersectionality essay during the assembly was an admirable and brave risk that you took and I’m so proud of you for doing so. As you mentioned repeatedly throughout our planning process in class, sharing personal stories is the way that we can move people not only to understand these issues but also take action. Your ability to merge your personal experience with the readings we have done in class allows your readers to grasp how important these issues are to you and others. I’m very much looking forward to reading your future posts!

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