The sun has set on our International Day of the Girl 2013. It almost feels as if the day itself is a misnomer. I want to call 2013 the year of the girl. Who knew a movement could gain such clarity and such unity of voice over so few months? We’ve dreamt this before as a people, of course. No one forgets Dr. King, Jr., his speech, or the work wrought in his name after his assassination. This… this is different. What began as a clear voice chanting has grown into a roar, and I have a difficult time believing these girls will ever again be silenced en masse. Too many people have heard them. Too many have taken up their banner and march with conviction. Too few have the political capital any longer to stop them. The movement encourages us now to make every day the Day of the Girl, and I applaud this message. Yes, lets. At the same time, let’s bring International Day of the Girl fully to scale. If 2013 is not the Year of the Girl, I cannot imagine when that year could be.
We observed privately. Our community screening of Girl Rising is not until later in the month, and we opted to do something personal and personally meaningful rather than put off our observance of the day. Daughters No. 2 and No. 3 and I invited a small group of their girl friends and parents to join us for the afternoon and evening. We spent our first couple of hours at the marvelous Mary’s House in downtown, a transition house for single mothers in recovery where they can live with their children while they work on their personal paths to wellness. Our group of three 12-13-year-olds, four nine-ten-year-olds, and four moms prepared a meal of spaghetti, garlic bread, and brownies, and the seven girls served the mothers and their children dinner. (Serving may have been a little chaotic, but it was heartfelt and everyone wore wide smiles.) Before and after dinner, our four younger children played with the Mary’s House younger children as if they’d always been friends. Our daughters learned about the value of service, the breadth of their community, and that even in this land of so much material wealth, not all girls and women are touched with their privilege. I hope they want to return, our girls. I do.
After cleaning up, we left the residents to their evening free of further disruptions but grateful for the opportunity to have served them and their children. The eleven of us went to dinner and began our evening by reading the Girl Declaration. (I’d brought copies for everyone.) I asked the girls what their favorite parts were. Some liked the lettering and artwork. One liked the bit that reads, “This is the moment when the world sees that I am held back by every problem and I am a key to all solutions.” Several liked my favorite part, “I have a name and it is not anonymous.” This image is full of so much power.
I didn’t give them long to be excited by the hope in the Girl Declaration. In between drink orders and food orders from our server, I asked each girl to take a card from a bag I’d brought inside with me and read what her card had on it to the group. Each card bore a single fact from the Girl Effect stats page detailing disparities between boys and girls globally, particularly as those disparities pertained to education. (Given the tender ages of several of our girls, I steered clear of sexually oriented facts.) We paused as we read to see if any facts engendered discussion, and several did. Our girls were interested in adolescent and child marriages as these points were relevant to their own ages (and seemed very foreign to them). We also had some adult-led discussion on how education drives economic changes for girls in developing countries while drawing comparisons to the amount of education our girls already had. Several of the younger girls were astonished to learn they would be forced to leave school in another year or two (and one thought that would be extraordinarily lucky!), while the older girls realized they would no longer be able to go to school because they would already be housewives and, likely, mothers.
Finally, before our food arrived, I passed around another set of cards. Bearing the “I AM” IDG avatar but carrying the now-famous Lean In question, the girls were asked to write on their cards what they would do if they weren’t afraid. They didn’t sign them before sticking them back in the little bag I kept for the purpose, and around the table they went for someone else to draw and share with the group. Even two of the moms participated.
Several girls did take ownership of their cards once someone else had read them aloud, and feedback seemed positive and overwhelmingly supportive. Some cards came home with me anonymously written, which was fine as the instructions for the activity dictated no one had to claim his or her own as it was being read. Their responses were lovely, as was the discussion that ensued. One card spun its own discussion that seemed to touch many of the girls at the table: I would believe and accept my talents. This simple statement, made by one of our mothers, became a gift to all our girls, a may you always be encouraged to pursue your passions (and be told how very talented you are). I also watched as another mom agreed that she, too, had not been encouraged to pursue excellence (or much of anything) as a child, and I watched as our children watched them talk and realized that their mothers were not irrelevant.
What did our girls and moms say they would do if they weren’t afraid:
- I would believe and acknowledge my talents.
- Start a program for homeless animals or unwanted.
- I would fight. I would stand up for women’s rights. I will help the people who need it. If I get down then I will pop back up and be better.
- I would go to a graveyard and do the Ouija board.
- I would lean how to ride a bike.
- So, what I will do is to help raise money for homeless kids and adults to help pets, too.
- I’d kiss without apologizing.
- Write an album and publish it.
- I would publicly speak about the effects of depression and self-harm.
We ate, and as we did, we continued to share one another’s dreams, the things these girls would do if they weren’t afraid. Voices raised in support, encouragement, and empathy. I know how you feel, and but you can start with a little bit and then get bigger. And we talked about real fear, the fear of girls around the world who couldn’t go to school because the dangers of getting there were worse than the lifetime dangers of remaining uneducated, the fear of becoming a mother at the age our girls around that table had already reached, the fear of being forever unheard no matter how much one had to contribute.
We planted seeds, and none of us can say what garden will bloom from our efforts. The other mothers and I have already decided to make this a routine event in our girls’ lives, to not wait for IDG2014. Inch by inch makes a mile, and we have leagues to go before our work is done. Our girls are only beginning.
To learn more about the Day of the Girl movement and the organizations involved, please see the links included in Focus on Education Girls Globally.