04 August 2013

(I’ve spent today traveling to Poland, so I turned over the blog to my close friend Cathy Applefeld Olson, who gets credit with, among several other things, coming up with the name Causes & Effect. From the minute I told her about the idea for the blog last fall, she has been one of my biggest supporters. Not only is her post beautifully written, it raises some very important questions, including how all our lives could have been very different through a mere twist of fate.  Melinda)

‘Cause I’m Just a Girl …

I recently had the opportunity to see the documentary "Girl Rising." And just as it was designed to do, it’s been agitating me ever since. 

An intimate portrayal of spirits battered but not broken, the film is unabashed in its goal: Heightening awareness of oppression against females around the globe and raising funds to educate them. Because, as we know, education is the way to empowerment. To personalize what seem like insurmountable odds—the statistics pile up in the film like lost opportunities--it hones in on nine current-day girls in nine countries. 

We meet Wadley, an impoverished 7-year-old Haitian girl who refuses to stop going to school after the 2010 earthquake decimates her village and education becomes a commodity only for those who can pay. And Suma, a Nepalese woman forced into bonded labor at age 6 who now uses her education to fight for other girls’ freedom. And Amina, an Afghani teenager whose parents sell her into marriage and use the money to buy her brother a new truck. Their individual stories are raw and brave and unrelenting. Made all the more powerful because we know they are merely the jagged edges jutting into the public eye, representing millions of similar fates festering just below the surface.

As the mother of two girls, the inevitable correlations flow freely. As my 15-year-old puts an exclamation point on the end of her freshman year of high school, I know in a parallel life she’d already be a mother herself, the victim of daily rape at the whim of a man who regards her as property. As I watch my 13-year-old joyfully concocting a new recipe in the kitchen, I can imagine the light of her passion already snuffed out, her hands cracked and bones weary from daily hard labor. 

And I’m haunted by the question: In a parallel life would I be able to rescue my daughters from their destiny? Knowing in my gut that without a means to break the cycle the answer is a callous no. I also know that free, educated parents don’t love our daughters any more than those who were born holding the shorter straw. The greatest determinant of our life’s lot is the luck, or lack thereof, to be born into the time and place where we find ourselves. 

Gwen Stefani’s ironic lyric has been spinning around my head a lot since I saw "Girl Rising":
“Cause I'm just a girl, little ol' me, don't let me out of your sight.
I'm just a girl, all pretty and petite, so don't let me have any rights.
The moment that I step outside, so many reasons for me to run and hide.
I can't do the little things I hold so dear, cause it's all those little things that I fear.”

I know in some circles we’ve made tremendous progress in our regard for girls and women. In others, some closer to home than I like to admit, the road before us is long and treacherous. But I’m an optimist. I know we can do better. I’d like to think that in my daughters’ lifetime the human race will have progressed much farther down that road, to a place where all of our girls are less confined by gender and are free to rise to their full potential—lifting us all up with them. 

Today our donation goes to the 10 x 10 Foundation, a global action campaign for girls’ education founded by The Documentary Group and Vulcan Productions. 10 x 10 created Girl Rising and, working with a host of strategic partners, is spreading its message. That message, a mantra really, is simple: Educate girls and you will change the world. 

-Cathy Applefeld Olson

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