#WeForShe and 6 Steps to Empower Girls

Bells were ringing. The blushing bride, garbed in a white, lace dress; a soft, sweeping veil; pearls; and tiara, was at last ready to walk. Simply put, she was the picture of grace and beauty, but there wasn’t any trace of joy on her youthful face. Her eyes, still puffy from the tears she shed earlier, signified confusion, fear, and resignation. Her lips, vibrantly pink to match the flowers she now clasped, were in shape of a slight frown.

Forward, her mother said, was the direction she should have been moving down to the aisle and in her life for marrying the 37-year-old man on the other side. The man, 25 years her senior, was said to be her future – instead of her potential to one day be a veterinarian. Thea, the 12-year-old bride, thought these things and just stared down the aisle at her husband-to-be; she was fearful of the consequences if she didn’t move and was resentful for the path chosen for her. The music would have swelled as this bride advanced, but her feet didn’t initially move. “Forward,” society said, and the wedding continued.

These are the fictional circumstances that might have played out for one 12-year-old bride in Norway, as detailed on the website Stopp Bryllupet, or “Stop the Wedding”. The website, made to look like a preteen’s blog, was set up by Plan Norway as a call to action for the end of childhood marriage and to feature the plight of millions of girls globally. The blog, prior to its unveiling of being associated with Plan Norway, caused a stir with over 2 million people calling out for the end of this marriage between a girl and man. Particularly impressive because that number roughly equates to 40% of Norway’s population, and the blog today has no English version.

Olaf Thommessen, the national director of Plan Norway, has been quoted in saying:

“We want[ed] to show how horrible the practice of child marriage is and put it in a context that is familiar and normally associated with love, happiness and hope for the future. Many girls dream about their wedding day and this day is often referred to as one of the happiest days of their lives. But for 39,000 young girls who get married every day, their wedding day is the worst day of their life.”

Thea 2The blog is an example of the kind of technology-driven advocacy we often showcase on Everyday Ambassador in highlighting global issues from a new angle. While child marriage has never been a new concept, we feature Stopp Bryllupet today for its insight into the internal struggles that child brides face, the mixed messages they receive, and the real fears they have for their wedding day. More so, it’s a call for empathy and activism for the many other girls worldwide who have had their weddings continue. With the outcry on social media, the wedding that would have taken place today  was stopped – aptly so because today is recognized as the International Day of the Girl.

On December 19, 2011, the United Nations designated this day in recognition of “girls’ rights and the unique challenges that girls face  around the world.” For this year’s theme, the United Nations has called upon governments, civil society, and public and private institutions to “reaffirm their commitment to end the scourge of violence against adolescent girls” and to empower girls by:

  • Investing in adolescent girls to equip them with skills, confidence, and life options: through family, schools, technical and vocational education and training, and health, social and economic support systems;
  • Making infrastructure, services, and technology accessible to girls and effective in meeting their needs for safety, connectivity and mobility;
  • Facilitating adolescent girls engagement in civic, economic and political life;
  • Continuing to advocate for making violence against girls and women visible and unacceptable both in private and public domains;
  • Strengthening data, measurement and the evidence base in relation to the empowerment of and violence against adolescent girls.

Today, there are numerous organizations that strive to fulfill these goals. For a young person looking to participate in this conversation, it can be hard to find an actionable next step, not just in ensuring the prevention of violence against girls but in the girls’ and women’s empowerment movement overall. Yesterday, I had the privilege of listening to five Atlas Corps Fellows on a panel for the topic of women’s empowerment. While I was moved by their own individual stories and experiences, I also took note of what had they had to say for young people’s involvement. Here were my 6 big takeaways.

Reach out as a peer and a mentor. Here at Everyday Ambassador, we firmly believe that activism, while incredibly important at the global level, most often starts at home. We encourage you reach out to local organizations that provide spaces for you to mentor a girl. You have an opportunity there to befriend her, provide her with another perspective beyond her own community, inspire her to take new routes, allow her to speak about issues that may not be brought up at home, and to learn from her. In translating this experience perhaps to one abroad, you may find that some of the issues girls face in the United States are the same or similar to the ones girls face overseas.

Recognize your own biases. Acknowledge the gender-based inequalities in your own society, and think deeply about the root causes and the many factors that have shaped your own experience as a young man or woman. Realize that sometimes our access to certain opportunities are limited by the patriarchal communities that we live in. In another light, celebrate the norms that have afforded you the successes that you’ve had, and share those with others.

Question gender norms, and do your research. Similar to my earlier point, realize that men and women, as well as boys and girls, shouldn’t be held to “masculine” and “feminine” standards. Read websites like The Good Men Project that bring about a different conversation on what it means to be a man. At the same time, watch your language for terms that connote weakness with femininity. As a woman, don’t be afraid to branch out and run at your own success. Ultimately, your success shouldn’t make you “more masculine” but should be an example of a female empowered and greater equality of both genders.

Share your talents. Give your time to smaller projects and to smaller initiatives. Female empowerment ultimately is about equality of both genders, and this is complex issue that’s not going to be solved overnight. If you can even given an hour to a local or grassroots initiative that tackles gender inequality in small ways, you are making a difference.

Share your experience. Share your experience with others on what it means to be a man or women in the society you live in. It may be something you take for granted everyday but realize that gender norms aren’t often topics we actively discuss as a society. They’re often internalized, but sharing your experience can give others perspective and ideas to build constructive next steps in this movement.

Include men in the conversation. By now, Emma Watson’s “He for She” speech has gone viral, and she, along with UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, have promoted the idea that men needed to be included in the female empowerment conversation as well. From the panel discussion with Atlas Corps, one fellow mentioned how it would be “naive” to not acknowledge the men in her life that have given her the space to be successful. While changing societal norms will take time, as a young man, you too can be an advocate for not only female empowerment but  for “human empowerment” overall. Challenge the values that make a man “masculine” and recognize that traditionally “feminine” qualities can also be hallmarks for success.

Now it’s your turn: What would you add to this list to encourage young people to participate in this movement? Let us know in the comments section, and we may feature your comment in an upcoming post.

“Bucket List” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador brand strategist Audrey del Rosario. Every Saturday, we will feature events, conferences, and happenings that spark conversation and ignite your inner activist. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #bucketlist or #EAinspired on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

Image Credit: Stoppbryllupet.blogg.no/ and Audrey del Rosario

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