To unleash the power of the adolescent girls is to create a world where girls are able to take advantage of any and every opportunity to come her way. It means to create a world where she not only has access to education, but also the freedom to attend school. Where she has reliable sources of nutrition-rich food and clean water, and doesn't have to risk sexual assault to collect it.
Nearly 90 per cent of girls tell Plan International that they have more opportunities in life than their mothers did. That's progress. But in developing countries, girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer malnutrition, and 63 million girls (many more than boys) don't attend school. Removing barriers to education, health care and other rights isn't enough. We need to focus on how girls can move beyond merely surviving, to thriving.
This phenomenon of taking children back to their native countries during the summer break to undergo female genital mutilation is called "vacation cutting." FGM is a horrendous, harmful and painful cultural practice that involves partial or total removal of a girl's genitalia, ostensibly as a rite of maturity but more clearly to control a girl's sexuality.
Every now and then, I hear someone say, "Oh, I just love it when kids dress themselves. It's so adorable!" When they say this, I know exactly what they are picturing -- a little girl wearing a fun combination of fashionable clothing, full of delightfully mismatched colours and unconventional pattern combinations.
Talking about sexual and reproductive health with students is always a little bit awkward, even in the best of situations! Having these discussions within a culture that often considers anything related to reproductive health to be taboo can be particularly challenging -- and incredibly important. In rural Tanzania, such topics are rarely discussed. The national curriculum includes the topics of menstruation and reproductive health, but these topics are frequently rushed through, or skipped altogether, by uncomfortable teachers in underfunded, overcrowded schools.
There's no question that sports can play a critical role in boosting girls' self-confidence and determination. Many of us have known the girl who claims to be "totally uncoordinated," only to score the winning point for her basketball team. Or the shy, uncertain child who had trouble speaking up in class and now kicks butt in karate. Here's a photo gallery of the transforming effect sports can have on girls, no matter where they live.
I've just entered the beginning of my 30s and there are quite a few things about life that I'm still confused by and haven't quite "figured out" yet. But there's one thing, without a doubt, that I feel I've managed to really figure out -- it's the type of girlfriends that I should work hard to keep in my life.
I don't ever want my kids to see me avoid participating in something because I'm worried about how I look, but I also want to feel comfortable and relaxed, which I find difficult in any kind of bathing suit. So thank you to the women who wear bikinis in front of my daughters, for showing my girls that confident women come in all shapes and sizes.
Over the past few months there's been a lot of conversation about whether women are getting a fair shake in Silicon Valley. It's fantastic that there's so much focus on gender equality, but most of the discussion bypasses the fact that we still need to get more women to even try to succeed in technology.
Survivors of sexual assault experience a great deal of shame and guilt, particularly young women, as they internalize the victim-blaming messages conveyed by the media. This often keeps them from seeking the support they so desperately need. This International Women's Day, we need to encourage more initiatives that are centred on girls and young women. We need to commit to eliminating barriers to accessing support for survivors of sexual violence. And we need to support projects that deconstruct and challenge rape culture. But most importantly, we must listen and believe young women when they speak.
2014 may have been the year of the nipple (#FreeTheNipple), but 2015 is definitely the year of the bush (#PubeGame). Pubic hair is so popular right now, it's vogue. From mild to moderate tuffs, harbouring tiny strands of love in between your legs has been all the rage so far this year and it has no intention of slowing down.
At 23 years of age, Nasreen Sheikh radically redefines what it means to be a Nepali woman. She is a Sunni Muslim living in a predominately Hindu community and is the founder of a fair-trade sewing collective called Local Women's Handicrafts. Nasreen is an outlier in her community. Typically, most Nepali girls marry between the ages of 15 and 18. The pressure to have a married daughter began to increase with each year Nasreen remained single however, and in 2014, Nasreen's parents decided that they had to take action. For Nasreen, this arranged marriage would have meant the end of Local Women's Handicrafts.
"Good luck with the little drama queen," they say when they find out I'm expecting a girl. It seems we gals have a rep right out of the womb -- as dramatic, irrational whack-jobs. So, when one of us is assaulted and comes forward, many people instantly think: oh she's exaggerating, seeking attention or revenge or a payday. It's a pattern, after all.
While it's always good practice to stop and celebrate our achievements and accomplishments, we still have a long way to go to truly empower girls. The non-profit organization, Girls' Inc. coined the term "supergirl dilemma" in a 2006 report to describe the pressure on girls to be everything to everyone, all the time.
Dunham has changed the game on how young women can talk about their bodies, and their lives, and their problems. But my general reaction to this sentiment is UGH because we had to wait for someone to do that. I can be funny and popular now because the general public has a frame of reference for me. People can now qualify how funny or attractive I am based on another human being's life.
With kids growing up surrounded by advertising, movies and TV, toys, books, and clothes that tell them that some things are for girls, and others are for boys, we're already fighting an uphill battle if our goal is to raise girls who know that they can solve tough, real world problems, and boys who are interested in collaboration, not just competition.