Feminism: Educating and Empowering Girls to Change the World

Here I am with my feminist classmates at the UN for International Day of the Girl (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).
Here I am (middle) with my feminist classmates at the UN for International Day of the Girl (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

When you grow up surrounded by certain “privileges,” such as access to a good education, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll take them for granted. For many, including myself, going to school often feels more like a burden than a privilege.

Malala Yousafzai enlightened me about the power of education and that out of education comes empowerment and out of empowerment comes equality. She gave me a completely new perspective on education, and how crucial it is in order to make the world a better place.  However, I was right about one thing. Education is not a privilege; it is a fundamental human right.

An article in the Washington Post quoted Malala, who stated “I want to change the future of my country, and I want to make education compulsory.” Malala demonstrates that education is our greatest weapon in the fight for equality, which means it is also the greatest threat for those such as the Taliban, who do not want women to become more powerful.

Malala and the girls who spoke at the recent Girls Speak Out Event at the United Nations are perfect examples of how you don’t need to be old and experienced to bring about change in the world. All of these girl activists stress the importance of having access to an education, as well as a safe environment where girls feel comfortable to speak up, both of which give girls the opportunity to create change.

Feminism has taught me that even though many girls, including myself, don’t experience the same sort of oppression as the 66 million girls in developing countries who are out of school, we have a responsibility to help them. By providing them with access to education, we are giving them the power to not only improve their own lives, but also to help bring us closer to achieving our mutual goal of changing the world.

For this to happen, intersectionality must play a role. How can we possibly help someone if we consider him or her “inferior”? That would only be contributing to the problem, instead of being part of the solution. This is why we must teach girls and boys that we are all equal, and to not only respect differences among people, but also acknowledge their value in creating a better world for all of us. A world where girls do not have a one in three chance of experiencing sexual violence, are not subject to human trafficking and AIDS, and where 14 million per year will not be married under 18, or be likely to die in child birth due to their young age. Instead, all girls will have access to an education,have equal pay as men, and finally be treated as human beings, deserving of basic human rights.

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The Fierce and Fabulous class at our International Day of the Girl Assembly (photo credit: Lexie Clinton)
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Audrey Lorde’s quote “The transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self revelation.” is projected behind us during our International Day of the Girl Assembly  (Photo credit: Lexie Clinton)

Audrey Lorde’s statement, “The transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self revelation,”  was projected above our heads during our school’s International Day of the Girl assembly.

This quote  was certainly relevant for me in both writing my essay on intersectionality, and preparing to read it in front of my entire school. Leading up to the assembly, I was terrified. I’ve never been a fan of public speaking, and to put myself out there in front of my entire high school was unsettling, to say the least.

Yet, after sitting on stage with my peers and listening to them share their stories, I realized we were all there for one purpose, to share with the rest of our school what we had learned in class about the importance of intersectionality in our lives.

After having several of my teachers and peers congratulate me on my piece and the assembly overall, I knew we had succeeded. This further proved to me how essential education is because it both allows people to reach their full potential, while empowering them to speak up for themselves and take action.

From working to stop slut-shaming, unequal pay and street harassment, to fighting human trafficking, sexual violence, and the lack of education for girls, feminism is a global movement. After learning about feminism and the breadth of issues it addresses, it became a much more significant part of my life. It changed the way I view the world and myself.

It started with recognizing the ways in which, without being aware, I and others around me are contributing to the problem of inequality. For example, Slut the play opened my eyes to how unfair society’s views and treatment of women are, and how they need to change. Instead of telling women to be careful and regulate their personal behavior and appearance in order to hide their sexuality, such as not dressing or behaving like a “slut,” society should teach men and women that there is no way to justify rape, and not associate masculinity with degrading women and assuming power over them.

While writing my personal essay on intersectionality, I realized that this problem of inequality extends to other social identity groups along lines of race, class, geographical location and sexual orientation. Even after being aware of all of these injustices, it’s hard to figure out how I can use my knowledge to make a difference.

At the end of the Speak Out Event, one organization brought up the importance of social media, and the positive impact it can have when used at a tool to promote girl empowerment. For example, you can sign and start your own petitions, which is an easy way to for one person to raise awareness about these issues, make a huge difference, and bring us one step closer to equality.

13 thoughts on “Feminism: Educating and Empowering Girls to Change the World

  1. I agree that Malala and the girls at the UN are great examples of how you don’t have to be old to make a change in the world. Like you, I am also not a big fan of public speaking, but I am so glad that we had the opportunity to share our stories. The “transformation of silence into action” is extremely important. Reading our pieces enlightened our school about the unintentional ways they are contributing to inequality and injustice. I hope that in the future more people will understand what they can do to make a chance, even if it is simply starting an online petition.

  2. I agree with you that “you don’t need to be old and experienced to bring about change in the world”. It was definitely one of the most inspiring and surprising lessons for me during the Girls Speak Out Event at the United Nations. Starting from young adults, a message may be even more powerful; yet, before joining the action, it is necessary that we invite others to realize the value of the circumstances and advantages that they have grown in. Underestimating one’s privileges is comprehensible, especially when one hasn’t made a great effort to achieve them; it’s urgent to invite others to reflection through the example of Malala and the lesson of feminism. Only then, they can broaden their perspective and understand their actions and language.

  3. “At the end of the Speak Out Event, one organization brought up the importance of social media, and the positive impact it can have when used at a tool to promote girl empowerment.” I think this is a very important aspect that we are learning more and more. I mean, even writing blog posts is a positive tool. I agree that when education is constantly a given, it quickly becomes a burden until you are reminded that not all of us have this right. I also agree that education should be human right. Great post!

  4. I love how you started the post off by discussing privilege, something so many of us take for granted. If its being able to express your sexuality, or being able to wear something, privilege plays a role in all of our lives. I see a lot of Malala in a lot of my peers in the Feminism class. “I want to change the future of my country, and I want to make education compulsory.” This quote from Malala shows so much power, and its amazing to see how much her voice has made an impact on the world. I like how you put the video “The Girl Effect.” I remember when we showed this video to the school during the international day of the girl assembly. Some of the facts shared in that video are so shocking, people cannot help but stop and think about what is going on in the world.

  5. Martine your reflection on the importance of education stood out to me. When you said, ” Education is not a privilege; it is a fundamental human right,” I was touched because I have never thought of that analysis. Your connection to Malala and your feelings about education helped me realize that education is such a vital part of life and it is a fight that is worth being fought. The opening statement of your article is very strong and I think that being aware of your privilege is a very important step to making a difference and I am glad that you have taken that step.

  6. I agree when you say “Education is not a privilege; it is a fundamental human right” because no child should not have the opportunity to go to school. In New York we have the law that no child can drop out of school unless they are 16. The law should be 21 not 16. Also, you say you never realized that going to school was a privilege. We all grow up in a society that does not make us aware of our world. Sometimes I do not even realize all the opportunities we receive while others receive nothing.

  7. This is a really powerful piece martine! I’m really proud. It is very difficult to talk about certain privileges that certain people are able to have and ones that others are not as fortunate to posses. I also think its really important that you believe that the responsibility to help others is yours and the responsibility of girls like us. I think its huge that you see yourself as such an actevis!

  8. Martine! I love how you speak about privilege and its affect on education, or lack there of. Its interesting to see how privilege affects education, “a fundamental human right.’ I also like your line “By providing them with access to education … [we] help bring us closer to achieving our mutual goal of changing the world” because it shows that Feminism goes beyond just the classroom and into the world.

  9. I love this post because I feel one thing many of us always forget or find the hardest to do is explain how we are privileged. I completely agree with your statement: “Feminism has taught me that even though many girls, including myself, don’t experience the same sort of oppression as the 66 million girls in developing countries who are out of school, we have a responsibility to help them.” One may feel that since they can’t relate to something, they don’t have the “right” to become passionate about the subject. But really it is still our responsibility as students who do have the access to an amazing education to help those who don’t. I am truly inspired by you.

  10. It is really important to acknowledge how much of a human right education is. It is true that many of us see it as a burden, while there are many girls wishing they simply had the opportunity to go to school. Education is so powerful and “out of education comes empowerment and out of empowerment comes equality.” It is important to see that education is a “fundamental human right” and that everyone is entitled to and deserves an education.

  11. I really like how you started it by looking at yourself first and how instead of feeling privileged, you feel burdened, but you’re right. No one should feel privileged going to school because it should be an established human right. Nice post!

  12. Martine, I am very impressed at your self reflection on intersectionality and privilege. I have noticed that often the smallest things that I have access to, I take advantage of and complain about. Like your example, with school, I don’t know how many times I have heard students argue on how school isn’t necessary and I find myself dreading going to school everyday. We often think that we do not need school because the real world will provide us with knowledge, yes that is true if you are very privileged and have the resources to travel but there are people out there as statistics say that do not have the option to go or not to go. They are perpetually stuck in their position and that is why education is so necessary.

  13. I also believe that “Malala Yousafzai enlightened me about the power of education and that out of education comes empowerment and out of empowerment comes equality.” I feel like living in a land of privilege we take what looks like a given for granted. The act of going to school to learn in itself is a luxury in other countries. I agree that education is a weapon because. We as a society take pride in education. That’s why tuition is so high and why people with master degrees get paid more. That’s why when the slaves hundreds of years ago stepped foot on American soil they were considered “barbaric” because they didn’t know the English language. They weren’t considered “educated” to American standards even if they had been successful in their land. It’s amazing how much education can cause different ideas to emerge and it can ultimately change the world.

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