I love catching random glimpses of someone right as they break out into laughter. The way their eyes light up and their smile speaks of genuine joy – the tiny glimmer of watching someone laugh warms my heart even without the idea of ever having met them. Complete strangers enjoying their lives day by day. I believe people are good. Maybe this makes me sound particularly naive but I wish everyone in this world could be happy. I wish everyone in this world could have what they need. What brought this to my mind was the sight of my co-worker across the room that I just happened to look at as I walked back to my desk from the printer. I saw her talking to another one of my co-workers and it was then that she broke out into the most joyous laughter and the glimmer in her eyes as she laughed gives me hope that my naivety wishes upon everyone. That glimmer of happiness said through laughter. I sat down at my desk and continued working on some of the things I had in front of me. I thought, “I work with some of the strongest, greatest women I know. I feel really lucky to know them. I feel lucky to be one of them too.” I think what makes people strong is dignity. People are strong when they can take care of themselves. People are strong when they don’t let others’ dictate their future for them. Dignity – It’s essential to us as humans just as water and air. Could you imagine what your life would be like if someone told you at the age of 12 that you no longer could go to school because you had to get married instead? What if that someone was your mother or your father? You couldn’t argue with them. Even if you were the smartest kid in the school and all you dreamt of being when you grew up was a doctor. And you knew nothing could stop you from making that dream come true. Except for.. your parents not allowing you to finish school because you had to get married. This happens to nearly sixty million girls throughout the world. I’m not saying that there is a lack of dignity within this way of living but what I’m identifying for myself is that dignity is gained within the honor and respect from taking care of oneself and the honor and respect coming from others.
What would this world look like if we were to stop oppressing women and start focusing on educating young girls instead?
I’ve been intrigued by Malala Yousafzai since the day I read about her. What I love about her most is that she is so loving and so hopeful despite what she has witnessed and experienced within her life. I cannot compare my life with hers as we are blatantly different people living completely separate lives but I’d like to think that we have one thing in common and that is the desire for gender equality within our lifetime. She and I both are strong advocates for education and rights for young girls. Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for the advocacy of education for girls and has sparked an international movement. When she was 11 years old she started a blog under the name BBC Urdu writing about her life under the Taliban Occupation of Swat. The summer following, a New York Times Documentary was made about her and quickly she became more well known. Soon after she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by activist Desmond Tutu.
On October 9th 2012, on her way to school, she and two other girls were shot by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt due to her activism and their continuation with school. Malala was hit in the head knocking her unconscious but still miraculously survived. She was taken to the hospital and once her condition improved she was flown to a hospital in Birmingham, UK where she would gain consciousness and full recovery. Immediately following, she started the organization the Malala Fund and has dedicated her activism towards the right of education.
In 2014, Malala became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In her speech upon winning the award she said, “Today I tell my story not because it is unique but because it is not. It is the story of many girls.” She continues on saying, “I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education. And today I am not raising my voice, it is the voice of those 66 million girls.”
When I was in Kenya studying the benefits of Fair Trade companies, I remember discussing with my friend Anne about marriage traditions. Typically she said that is not uncommon for a Maasai family to marry off their daughter around the age of 12. A dowry is given in exchange for the daughters hand in marriage. Typically she will be married to an older man who will be able to financially provide. Whereas the younger males of the same generation were needed more to be utilized for protection and sent to the outer boundaries of the community to be guards for about ten to fifteen years. Once married she will most likely have her first child right away or as soon as she’s able to conceive. But as child mortality is becoming less frequent, this practice is beginning to phase out. In working with Anne and learning about the shift in social change since work opportunity arose for women, young girls are becoming inspired to follow in their mothers footsteps in continuing education and working instead. The change that Anne and her contemporaries are seeing within the community are young girls choosing higher education and mothers having their own money to invest back into their families such as education for their daughters. What I loved learning the most about this particular aspect of how work opportunity aids development is that young men told me they are more interested in marrying a woman who is educated and employed. The socio-culture for this particular community of Maasai has shifted towards respect and equality to both men and women.
This is a sign of our world finding progress. And this all starts with the education of young girls.
Stephen O’Brien, a British politician and served as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations, stated in 2017 that the world is facing the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945 when the United Nations was founded. This crisis involves 20 million people in the countries of Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia facing the risk of starvation and famine. When I read about this statement in 2017 my mind immediately inquired if there was a correlation between this disaster and the lack of education for girls. This is an incredibly multifaceted issue but the lack of education for girls, I believe, is a contribution.
Yemen has the lowest rate in the Middle East of girls enrollment in education. Education for girls is low in Yemen due to socio-cultural factors. The chastity of girls makes parents unwilling to send them to mixed gender schools. The tradition of early marriage hinders girls from continuing education and negative attitudes towards the education for girls all contribute to very few girls enrolled in school. In South Sudan, the literacy rate for women averages about 13%. According to UNICEF, “fewer than 1% of girls complete primary education.” South Sudan is found to have the highest female illiteracy rate in the world. Nigeria out of the four countries listed within the famine crises has the most attention towards the importance of educating girls but still Nigeria has a ratio of 1:2 in regards to a gender gap in education meaning for every one girl in school there are two boys attending. In certain other states throughout Nigeria the ratio is 1:3 in favor of boys. And in Somalia, less than half of all Somali students are girls and only a quarter of Somali women are literate.
Like I said before the crises stated by Stephen O’Brien is very complex but I do believe that the lack of education for girls has a major affect on the gross national production and well being of a nation. How can it not? Educated girls are empowered women able to break the cycle of poverty. Without poverty famine is less likely to occur.
When girls are educated they are able to contribute to socio-economic reform which directly affects a decrease in infant mortality, population explosion, combats against terrorism, builds mutual respect towards all human beings as well as contributes to a nations success which then contributes to a healthier world in which we all live.
I hope that Malala is right within her hope of being the last generation to lack education for many young girls. I hope we can work together as a global community in averting our future from famine, poverty and war and working towards solutions within the near future – particularly within the education of all children. I hope the idea of educating young girls and allowing them to avoid marriage at a young age in order to continue their education becomes normal. Because every human has the right to be educated. Every human should have the right to dictate their future for themselves. Because every human is deserving of dignity. And because everyone deserves to break out into laughter and feel their own happiness glimmer through their smiling eyes.