Sunday October 21, 2012
Dreams from my daughters: Letting young girls be girls
The Jakarta Post
By Ulia Suryakusuma
JAKARTA: “If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?”
Merida, the heroine of Brave, the 2012 Pixar film, asks this question, encapsulating the theme of the movie. She’s a spunky, rebellious Scottish lass, a skilled archer, and daughter to King Fergus of clan DunBroch. But her determination to forge her own path in life leads her to defy the age-old tradition of marrying a man from one of the four clans that support her father.
Malala Yousoufsai is another girl-heroine, but a real live one. She is the 14-year-old Pakistani girl from Mingora, in the Swat valley, who on Oct 9 was shot point-blank in the head by a masked gunman. She was targeted by the Pakistan Taliban simply for advocating the education of girls.
The Taliban accused Malala of more than just bucking tradition. She was also an “infidel” who spread Western culture, and was guilty of “obscenity”. Now struggling for her life in hospital, the Taliban have threatened to attack her again if she survives.
In 2009, Malala, then just 11, began blogging as “Gul Makai” for the BBC Urdu service about the horrors of daily life in Swat, which was a Taliban stronghold before the Pakistani military drove them out in 2009. But the attempted murder of Malala has brought back fear. It’s as if the Taliban never left.
In 2011, Malala, now regarded a global icon of courage, was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by The KidsRights Foundation. In the same year, she won the Pakistani National Peace Award for under-18s, now called the National Malala Peace Prize. And thanks to the Taliban, she has now become the global face of the girls’ education movement.
The despicable shooting of Malala happened just two days before the newly-minted UN International Day of the Girl on Oct 11 this year. Why “girls”, and why now?
Well, if women are often still second class citizens in many countries, for girls it is even worse. Child marriages are still prevalent, girls are denied education, and they are routinely victimised by the (patriarchal) institutions supposed to protect them.
In Indonesia, this was the experience of a 14-year-old girl, identified only as SAS, who was kidnapped and raped by sex traffickers who contacted her through Facebook. Rather than taking a caring and protective attitude, her school in Depok, sent her home for “sullying the good name of the school”. The principal added insult to injury by cruelly announcing this at the school’s flag-raising ceremony.
Huh? The school’s good name? The way they treated SAS, the school is doing a great job of sullying its own name. And if anyone were to be sent home, it should be the principal, who clearly has no idea of what it means to be an educator, let alone of understanding the long-term damage rape causes.
In 2012, girls still face tremendous discrimination all around the world.
Here are some scary stats:
By 2015, women will make up 64% of the world’s adult population that cannot read.
Only 30% of girls ever enrol in secondary school.
Worldwide, girls as young as 11 are forced to work as prostitutes, with an estimated 1.2 million girls trafficked every year.
“Gendercide” is still prevalent in countries like India and China.
In some provinces of China, the sex ratio is 140 boys to every 100 girls. The social cost is bride abduction, the trafficking of women, rape, prostitution, crime and social unrest in general. Is this the country where the expression “women hold up half the sky” originated? How ironic.
Then there’s child marriage. In developing countries, one in seven girls is married off before age 15. UNFPA estimates that over the next decade, 145 million girls – almost 40,000 a day – will marry before they turn 18.
If you prefer images to figures, then try looking at “The terrifying world of child brides” on the Daily Mail’s website.
It’s not surprising that the theme of the first International Day of the Girl is ending child marriage, as it’s a violation of fundamental human rights that has consequences for all aspects of a girl’s life. Not getting an education is just one of them.
Malala believes that education “is a must thing”. She’s right of, course. Knowledge in a girl’s head helps puts money in her pockets and alleviates poverty. Educating girls means improved health and nutrition for everyone.
That’s one reason why in their 2009 book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn make the compelling argument that this is the defining issue of the 21st century.
“I want my freedom!” exclaims Merida in Brave. Her mother, Queen Elinor, retorts, “But are you willing to pay the price your freedom will cost?”
Merida was willing, and so was Malala. Are the rest of you girls willing too? If not, the price to be paid by the whole of humanity will be even greater.
> The writer (www.juliasuryakusuma.com) is the author of ‘State Ibuism’.