For a while now I’ve been struggling to figure out what I want to say and formulate a post about this:
And I’m still not completely sure what to say. On the one hand, the video is beautiful, in that special wow, there really could be hope in this world way and terribly sad in the wow, there are so many girls out there living lives that they should not be living way. When I first saw the video I had to watch it a couple of times to actually think about it. And then I was curious, so I looked up the website of The Girl Effect. They have a fact sheet with some interesting and relevant facts, such as the fact that “an extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent” and that “out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70 percent are girls.” The statistics clearly show that there is a gap between what I (and many people in Western society) believe girls deserve and what they are getting.
But here’s the thing: it’s hard to change a society, and this video is, to say the least, quite the oversimplification. How can you give a girl independence in a society that is structured around her dependence? How can you make a society pay attention to girls when for thousands of years it has not? The answer: slowly. That’s where my hesitation is–not in the ideas behind The Girl Effect, but in the idea that everything is going to be easy. If you read “Girls Count: An Investment and Global Action Agenda,” you’ll see that the people at the Center for Global Development have some very logical and seemingly important ideas, like increasing access to secondary education for girls, working to get laws passed that fight discrimination against women, and getting girls official identification so that there is an official record of what happens to them.
I read these ideas and immediately said to myself, yes, of course these need to happen. And I still think they need to happen–but sadly, I’m just a little skeptical. NGOs like the World Bank have been for years and continue to build schools for girls, and what happens? Some girls get to go to school; in many cases, thousands upon thousands of girls get to go to school. But there still remain thousands and thousands who don’t. If a law gets passed that encourages equality, a law gets passed–but it is still up to the government, police, and other officials to enforce the law, and many times corruption inhibits that from happening. This is not to say that efforts should not be made–I think they should. However, I think it’s important to remember that even though the small pieces themselves may seem simple to achieve, it is much more difficult to change an entire society. The Western world functions very differently than other cultures, and changing a society’s mores and expectations takes time. It took, and is still taking, time for women to be seen as equal in America, and that time applies in the same way, if not more, when talking about changing foreign cultures and their perceptions of gender equality.
So watch the video, share the video, and talk to people about it. It raises a lot of issues, from the idea of the imposition of Western values onto other cultures to the debate about the efficacy of micro-finance initiatives. And hopefully, slowly, girls across the world will get the opportunities they deserve–from education to not having to have a child at age 14–and be able to live up to their full potential.