Written by Jennifer Remling Saturday, February 20 2010
Just recently, I realized that I have taken so many of my freedoms as a woman for granted. I grew up in the United States in a middle class family, was encouraged by my parents to be or do anything I wanted to, and had plenty of opportunities to express my opinion even if it wasn’t popular. I was never worried about being trafficked to another country and sold into prostitution or my parents selling me into marriage at age 13. It was never a question about whether or not I would get an education as it’s just part of our culture and society to do so. But, 600 million adolescent girls around the world don’t have the same opportunities I enjoyed.
Just recently, three separate people brought me information on the topic of The Girl Effect in the same week. I’m a big believer in synchronicity, so there was no question that I would explore the topic. A friend gave me the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It’s about turning oppression into opportunity for women. The book documents many stories of women and girls around the world who live in a state of constant threat. The book is powerful because the personal stories give you a connection to the women and girls that live in oppression. It is impossible to read this book and remain unchanged.
Just one of the stories that stands out is about a 13-year-old girl living in Thailand. Her family hit hard times so she took a job as a seamstress to support her family. In fact, the people she thought were giving her the job trafficked her to a foreign country and sold her into prostitution. She was beaten and drugged until she pleased her customers. When she finally escaped and went to the police, they arrested her for illegal immigration. After serving a year in prison, she was supposed to be repatriated, but the policeman that was escorting her to Thailand sold her to another trafficker who put her in a Thai brothel. This is just one of many such sad stories.
There are approximately 600 million adolescent girls around the world who are poor, have virtually no rights, no access to education, and are treated like animals. But there are a lot of groups that have been working with girls around the world to change this and it has proven to have a ripple effect that’s been dubbed The Girl Effect.
The Nike Foundation has an organization called The Girl Effect that for the last four years has worked to get girls on the international agenda and drive resources to them. According to the website, they’ve experienced that a safe, healthy, educated, economically empowered girl has the power to solve poverty and ignite progress as an economic factor and future mother. With the right opportunities, she alone will unleash the girl effect. She will marry later, have fewer children, and invest nearly all of her income back into her family. Yet today, less than half a cent of every international development dollar is spent on her.
There is much evidence to support that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. “China is an important model because it was precisely the emancipation of girls that preceded and enabled its economic takeoff. The same is true of other rapidly growing Asian economies,” Kristof states.
Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, realized through his work building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan that the best way to fight terrorism is with education. He also points to the areas where increased female literacy makes a difference in a society, specifically in infant mortality rates, population growth, and quality of life. He has seen that girls' education leads to increased income for their families, and that educated women channel more of their resources to the health of their children than men. Mortenson and many others who work in the region believe that teaching girls to read and write reduces the ignorance and poverty that fuel religious extremism and lays the groundwork for prosperity and peace.
After spending time delving into these three resources, I knew that I had to take action. Helping educate girls in developing countries is for the good of all of us. Women can change the world, but they have to be in a situation where they can effect change. We can’t turn our backs on 600 million adolescent girls and leave them uneducated with no future prospects. That’s bad for everyone.
How do you get involved and learn more?
The Girl Effect
Half the Sky movement
Jennifer Remling is the author of Carve Your Own Road: Do What You Love and Live the Life You Envision (Career Press 2009). Formerly a corporate recruiting executive for high-tech consulting corporations, today she has her own recruitment consulting firm. Remling is a frequent speaker on the topic of professional development.