I am selectively observant and have a very short attention span. I can pay attention for all of 10 minutes at an averagely boring lecture, and a maximum of one attempt at a ‘flirty-fishtail braid’ YouTube tutorial before I concede to twisting my hair into a knot and sticking a pencil in it. But I realised only today that I have never paid any attention to the International Day of the Girl Child before. One, because I didn’t know there was such a day. And two, because, I suppose, I did not work for a development organisation before.
But now I do.
And this week, my colleagues are in a hustle-bustle to plan an event of some sort around this day, hoping to get a few people to sit up and take notice of the issue. And I half-listen to the chatter, distantly hearing someone mutter that the papers will be full of ‘Girl Child Day -stuff’ that week. And I wonder – who gives a damn?
I recently read about the 14- year-old who would like her school to have separate toilets for girls. And about the 16-year-old who hopes she won’t be married off in a year’s time like many girls her age. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to be 14 and to share a common toilet with the boys. These stories make me sad. It would make most people sad. But in a – ‘Gosh, this world is falling apart’ – kind of way. But of course, I cannot single-handedly change the world! I live in a city. You know this stuff doesn’t affect us much – the newspaper-reading, Masterchef-watching, Instagramming bunch of us. I do feel sad. But sigh, I don’t have the answers.
So there’s the problem. There are huge girl-child issues on this planet. I don’t think that I contribute to them. And of course, you don’t, either.
You wake up tomorrow morning. Fetch the paper. Turn to page four. Maybe page seven. Your eyes stray to the bottom left corner. Black and white. Fifty words with no photo. And you read about a Girl Child Day event that a few local schools were a part of. Most people I know wouldn’t even get that far. I would probably just read the headline, and drift on. Or probably not.
So again, who gives a damn?
Now, I’m talking to you. You could be the old me. Who has not yet worked in a development organisation – the newspaper-reading, Masterchef-watching, Instagramming cool person reading this on your smartphone.
To me, and maybe a lot of you, the answer is simple. Yes, you probably can’t prevent the 16-year-old from being married off, but you can redefine things in your context. Take, for instance, the Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s definition of gender violence: ‘Violence against girls limits their opportunities and choices, threatening their futures and those of generations to come…’
So redefine those words. In my context, have I limited my daughter’s opportunities because she is a girl? Do boundaries I place for her in my desire to protect her actually limit her? Do women in my home have the same freedom of choice as the men? Drive the same cars? Voice opinions? Does my maid’s daughter receive the same education as her son?
But that’s not the whole answer.
There is still one missing link – what would it take, for you to read that yawn-worthy piece of news and connect it to your life, shrug off defensiveness and make it relevant?
Some of my colleagues have worked with the 14-year-old who wants a separate toilet for girls. They are passionate about justice and want to use the International Day of the Girl Child to get people’s attention. But I am skeptical. I doubt that many people, like me, would pay any attention.
I can only hope that someone somewhere will make a connect between the deeper issue and his or her own life, and tries to be the change.
Or maybe, after reading this, googles what the International Day of the Girl Child is all about.
That would be doing more than most people would!
Featured image source: epSos.de/Flickr