Reflections on International Day of the Girl
In December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly declared that October 11 would henceforth be known as the International Day of the Girl. For its second year in existence, the theme of this year’s commemoration is education as a form of girls’ empowerment.
Over the past year, the face of girls’ education advocacy has been sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban for her activism in support of education for girls. Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the attack on Malala, who fully recovered from her injuries and has become an important voice on this issue around the world. Her story reminds us of the real and present dangers that young women face when they demand a right that is theirs by birth: an education.
Education is just one of the many areas where advocacy is important to improve and empower girls around the world. Access to contraception and sexuality education, protection from gender-based violence and child marriages, as well as the right to participate in broader politics and society alongside access to employment opportunities are just some of the issues that girls and young women face as they develop into women.
But education is at the heart of it all. With education comes self-awareness and self-confidence, because the skills necessary for employment, for figuring out the world’s problems and how to solve them are part and parcel the product of time with teachers, with other students, with books and with the opportunity to ask questions and find answers.
Looking around at my role models, both historical and modern, it is so clear that success is not always guaranteed, especially for women and girls. There are many places in the world where, for social or political reasons, girls do not have the access to opportunity that they deserve. Reflecting on the Day of the Girl and this year’s theme, the lesson of female empowerment is deeply resonant and pertinent.
As Reform Jews, we place great emphasis on the power and importance of education. The Torah calls us not only to learn and discuss G-d’s instructions ourselves, but also to teach them to our children (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Fun fact: this citation from Deuteronomy is the beginning of the V’ahavta, the words we recite after the Sh’ma. Educating our future leaders is one step toward ensuring a brighter future – it will certainly be a giant leap toward empowering girls and greater equality for women.