Girl Activists Show They Are Really Women

My feminism class attended the Girl Speak Out with me on IDG. (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez)
My feminism class attended the Girl Speak Out on International Day of the Girl; I am seated second from the right. (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez)

On Friday, October 11, I had the honor of marking the second annual International Day of the Girl at the UN with my high school feminism class and 500 other guests. It was an event called Girls Speak Out, during which nine inspiring girl activists from around the world shared their stories and spoke with member states, UN agencies, and NGO’s about their work.

It was almost humorous looking at seven girls who were the center of attention, and who sat behind the large, imposing UN dais in office chairs, telling NGO workers and UN members how to improve worldwide issues. I couldn’t understand my partially negative reaction to this scene until one of the speakers helped me realize what I initially perceived as humorous was actually a troubling reaction to have.

A fourteen year old girl named Diana referred to herself as a “woman activist.”  I realized quickly that she was in no way mistaken. She has seen and gone through so much since the age of six, that she is in many ways, no longer a child.  It was then that I realized how inspiring it is to see these girls speaking at the UN; it also revealed how our system is set up against girls, forcing them to give up their childhood, not only through experiences such as sexual assault, trafficking, and early pregnancy, but through the responsibility they then have to take on as activists to let their issues be heard.

Diana is an undocumented immigrant who came to the US from Mexico with her father and brother by crossing a desert without food and water for three days. They lived in Florida for a while until her brother was deported. Her voice cracked with disappointment as she explained to the audience how she had just been accepted to a few amazing high schools that she was never able attend due to the move.

For adults, it’s difficult to throw away everything you’ve worked for; but for a child, one can only imagine the inner pain they feel towards hoping they will start something new and then have that opportunity thrown away. Never before did it occur to me how the story of a child dealing with an undocumented family member could affect a child’s future and well-being.

Just like Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, a P.H.D, M.D, professor of clinical internal medicine said in relation to the emotional toll that children of undocumented immigrants suffer, “the single most important indicator of early onset mental illness and chronic health problems is the experience of childhood adversity,” a child around my age shouldn’t have to deal with the heavy burden of realizing that they may not be able to go to college because financial aid is not given to undocumented immigrants. They should not have to live with the constant fear of knowing that one day they could be sent back to a country they don’t know.  In a country such as the U.S., which is filled with hope and opportunities, a child shouldn’t feel that they do not belong due to their immigration status.

It is argued that children who have family members who are undocumented suffer higher risks of poverty due to a lack of access to healthcare, financial aid, etc. These burdens that a child can start to feel by the age of fifteen, takes away their opportunity to have a healthy childhood. Though Diana is confident, and proud as ever, she is no different from the many girls around the world who are labelled “undocumented,” and who will feel the toll of their status throughout their lives.

As I sat in the audience listening to Diana and the other girls who told their stories, it was evident how much the world needs to learn about global girls issues. Every day I hear the phrase: “never leave a child behind.” But yet it still seems hard for the world to grasp the power of girls.

At the Girls Speak Out event, Lizzy, a girl advocate, explained that only about 1% of girls worldwide receive aid. The Girl Effect video below explains the importance of girls’ education and how educating girls can affect the whole world in positive ways. Anyone who sees this video whose job it is to change laws and protect people, should jump at the chance to improve the number of girls who attend school, change the laws that make it hard for girls to receive aid, and improve the equality between girls and boys.

But since change isn’t easy, girls like Diana must sacrifice their childhoods even further to let these issues be heard.

I hope the reader understands that I’m not saying girls should not speak out or that they should be protected from the realities of a “harsh society.” Instead, one shouldn’t forget the importance of having a childhood. The sacrifice that girls around the world are making today to have their issues heard should not be a sacrifice that every girl in the future should have to make. We need to thank these brave girls who are helping society for the better.

15 thoughts on “Girl Activists Show They Are Really Women

  1. I was so honored that our class was able to experience the second annual International Day of the Girl. Diana’s story and experience touched me deeply. I was shocked about how much she had been through at such a young age. As you said, America should be the land of opportunity, but unfortunately it has now turned into the land of misfortune. I hope that in the future there will be positive changes for undocumented youth and their families. I am grateful to all of the girls speaking up, and I hope that they can find a balance in their lives between being an advocate and having a childhood.

  2. It is very important that you were able to see how and why your reaction to seeing a panel of girl activists was negative. Realizing that some of these girls even were considered women because of what they had been through and that they were no longer children, is very powerful. From there it is where you switched your thinking to being inspired instead of humored. It is unfortunate that many girls have to “give up their childhood” and as you said, not just through issues like trafficking, sexual assault, and early pregnancy, “but through the responsibility they then have to take on as activists.”

  3. Being a child of a teen mother, I have seen first hand what society can do to the confidence, placement and acceptance of a teen mother. I have had the heartbreaking experience of looking through my baby book and my mother explain she was ashamed to take pictures while was pregnant. But, I have also seen my mother go directly against society, she attacked it by making sure she was not static and helped other girls who been in her same situation. I agree with what you are asking the reader to see. Girls don’t need to be pampered and sheltered, we need to be heard and respected. It’s simple.

  4. It is interesting to hear how you reacted to the panel of young activists at the IDG Girls Speak Out because I am now realizing how I found it odd to see such young people sitting at the head of such a formal space, but at the same time it was incredible to see them up there. I also think it is sad how many girls out there lose their innocence at such early ages. Your reference to Diana and how she calls herself a “woman activist” is an exact example of that because some girls have simply gone through too much to be considered “girls” anymore.

  5. I really, really enjoyed reading this post. I liked how you analyzed Diana’s situation because I think it’s something that we just hear, not feel. Your piece really stands out because it’s evident as to how passionate you are for children and them not being burdened with the responsibilities that they shouldn’t be burdened with. Great post!

  6. I really loved how you brought up this point of how girls are brought up is extremely important to how our society functions. It is very important that we bring up the next generation properly educated because they are the ones who will continue on the everlasting quest for total equality. So when you gave that statistic about children who are raised by parents who are undocumented or when you had that realization at the IDG at the UN about what Dianna had experienced just as a child it really got the point across that the way children are brought up is crucial and that in order to change the system that goes against girls we need to define a generations who believe in that change.

  7. I was particularly impressed by Diana’s words; she was evidently different from the other activists. She was eloquent and presented interesting and meaningful arguments; yet, as she spoke, she seemed to be releasing the anger and the stress that her experience had conveyed. I cannot imagine what realities she has lived in; I agree that “ for a child, one can only imagine the inner pain they feel towards hoping they will start something new and then have that opportunity thrown away.” I cannot see myself in a position of such great uncertainty now, at 17; I cannot imagine myself with her same strength and courage at her age, if I had experienced what she had to go through. Yet, she seemed to have grown from the turbulences of her childhood determined to be an exception, not a rule, which I find very admirable. One shouldn’t definitely “forget the importance of having a childhood”, as you stated; it was very moving and powerful to see that such a young girl, denied of a moment of great innocence and joy in her life, conveyed her anger to promote change with such great determination. I wonder how many voices she represented, voices of girls who instead of her motivation found fear. It’s our responsibility to make her, and who she might have represented, an exception.

  8. Naomi, I am glad that you took a lot from Diana’s inspirational speech. I could not agree more with your thoughts on education and its importance in girls lives. The sentence, “as I sat in the audience listening to Diana and the other girls who told their stories, it was evident how much the world needs to learn about global girls issues,” I was proud that you were able to make this recognition and it is the first step to being involved with change. I hope that the video you posted will speak to many people because it is very powerful and I think that sometimes people take education for granted.

  9. I was inspired by Diana’s story just like you. I agree when you say “one shouldn’t forget the importance of having a childhood.” I can not imagine not having a childhood. No child should have to grow up quicker than they have to. Also, I loved the reaction you had to the girls in the panel telling the adults what to do. It was shocking for us because we live in a society where we need to listen to adults and they usually give us advice. Instead girls younger than us were telling the adults what they need to work on. I was inspired and realized people do care about what we have to say.

  10. “It is argued that children who have family members who are undocumented suffer higher risks of poverty due to a lack of access to healthcare, financial aid, etc.” This fact is actually new to me. I did not know that being undocumented had such harsh affects on children, I did know that they were deprived of “their opportunity to have a healthy childhood.” Its interesting that we live in a country that welcomes people of all nationalities, yet we limit that which such people can do. I think you uncover one of the faults hidden within American ideals.

  11. Even though I was not able to attend International Day of the Girl while I watched it live-stream I was also extremely impressed by Diana’s speech. I was so moved by her bravery it must have taken a lot of courage. I also thought it was extremely powerful how these young women were telling adults how they should run things. I think it really makes a statement about how involved young adults are and how much adults underestimate us.

  12. I agree that it’s sad that being undocumented in America can be a burden. I felt sorry for Dianna. No child deserves to be stripped of their innocence and childhood before their time. This reminds me of my mother because she was the oldest of all 8 brothers and sisters and due to living up to expectations and taking on cultural norms of being a first born Nigerian girl she was put in positions that forced her to grow up. Despite this fact, I felt great that there were girls that looked like me that lived all across the globe that shared the same concerns and opinions that I had.

  13. Naomi, thank you for sharing this piece. I was touched, because I realize the relationship to my own reality. I know as a junior and probably as a senior, I can slowly feel my childhood slipping away much too quickly as expectations rise. My whole life I was concerned with being grown up and now as I approach this supposed adulthood I am realizing how important a childhood is. Your idea that girls in the ” world are making today to have their issues heard should not be a sacrifice that every girl in the future should have to make”, is valid because not only are young girls ripped of their childhood, but they are expected to voluntarily sacrifice their childhood. Their maturity is solely based upon their appearance, and sexuality not their mental or emotional state.

  14. Naomi, I loved your post. It is so hard to comprehend that these girls who need help aren’t receiving any aid. I really wish I went to the UN, especially after reading your post. These girls are amazing. Their confidence and what they have gone through is so inspiring. The Girl Effect video is so powerful I just want to show it to the whole world! I also wish that people who can make a difference do.

  15. I really appreciated the way you described our system as being “set up against girls, forcing them to give up their childhood, not only through experiences such as sexual assault, trafficking, and early pregnancy, but through the responsibility they then have to take on as activists to let their issues be heard.” I had always thought of young girls becoming activists as a purely positive thing, but your post helped me realize that for girls like Diana, it is a burden as much as it is an accomplishment. It is important that we not only encourage girls to speak up so their issues will be heard, but also thank them for sacrificing their childhood so that girls in the future won’t have to.

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