Category Archives: Women and Girls

On the “International Day of the Girl, 2014”

International Day of the Girl2014 AvatarResearch shows that educating girls in developing countries dramatically increases national literacy rates, which in turn, directly benefits economic development. When girls and women are provided equal education and economic opportunities, communities thrive.

The United Nations has recognized the importance of promoting girls’ rights around the globe, and in 2011 announced October 11th as the “International Day of the Girl”. In response to this initiative, the nonprofit organization, Sage Girl, partnered with Rebecca Gaynier of iTwixie to create the IDG Summit. In anticipation of IDG 2014, I asked IDG Summit co-founder, Emily Bent, to provide us with some more information surrounding this upcoming global event and to give some suggestions on how all of us can get involved in helping raise awareness toward girls’ rights around the world. Feel free to read and share as often as you like!

Beyond Lipstick and Petticoats: First, Emily, tell us a little bit about the annual International Day of the Girl Summit: how and when was it founded, what is its mission, where is it held, and who is involved?

Emily: The IDG Summit was founded in the summer of 2012 in honor of the 1st International Day of the Girl on October 11, 2012. The UN declared October 11th as the ‘International Day of the Girl Child’ in December of 2011, and they marked Oct. 11, 2012 as the first commemoration of this day. Every year UNICEF declares a theme for IDG related to girls’ rights and concerns globally; this year, the theme is about eliminating violence against girls (here is the link to the announcement: http://www.unicef.org/gender/gender_66021.html).

The IDG Summit is a program and initiative supported by a local nonprofit organization, Sage Girl, which is based in Hunterdon County, NJ. We created the IDG Summit along with Rebecca Gaynier from iTwixie for a number of reasons. First, the IDG Summit celebrates the power and potential of girls globally. We look to the spirit of IDG to elevate the voices and experiences of girls, but also to inspire others to take action and to work together to change the world with and for girls. The IDG Summit also seeks to create partnerships amongst other girl-centered organizations and to raise awareness about the critical work that so many girls’ organizations are doing locally, nationally, and globally. Too often, we end up sectioned off from one another and don’t get the opportunity to collaborate or support one another – but the IDG Summit is all about collaboration and partnership. Each year, we partner with upwards of 50 – 60 organizations invested in girls’ rights and empowerment.

Our mission is simply to bring girls and girl-serving organizations together to celebrate IDG and to collectively elevate the status of girls globally. We do this primarily though social media and web-based technologies with several signature initiatives including: 11 Days of Action and IDG Webcast on Oct. 11th. These activities are held on our website, and social media pages. But, we also host a physical event at the United Nations called the Girls Speak Out (and this will be the 2nd year that we are organizing this event) which is an event that gives girls the chance to advocate on their behalf, address key issues and concerns in their everyday lives, and speak directly with members of the international community.

BLaP: What inspired you to create IDG?

Emily: Unfortunately, I cannot take credit for creating IDG – this was the international community, namely the United Nations that established IDG.

But in creating the IDG Summit, Rebecca and I were inspired by a number of things – the girls that we work with everyday, the amazing stories globally of girls taking action and becoming strong activists for the issues that impact their lives, the adults and organizations that tirelessly support girls and challenge others to see girls as peers and actors with something important to say and contribute to the world, and the global movement to not only recognize the possibilities that result from girls’ empowerment but also the call for solidarity and collaboration across borders. Our tagline is “Together, we are changing the world.” And we truly believe that if we can come together and leverage the energy and passion of IDG – we can change the world.

BLaP: Who are some of your major sponsors? In what ways have they contributed to your mission (i.e., UNICEF and this year’s theme: Ending the Cycle of Violence)?

Emily: Over the last several years, we have begun the process of identifying major sponsors for the IDG Summit. And while, we do not yet have a major sponsor – our partners involved in the 11 Days of Action, for example, contribute funds to help cover the costs associated with technology, program development, media-based support, and advertising. We are very lucky this year to have secured a signature sponsor for the Girls Speak Out; Janssen recognized the alignment of our missions and we are grateful for their support. The vast majority of our financial support comes from individuals, who are drawn to the cause and believe in the spirit of IDG, and our approach to engaging girls in this global movement.

Our mission is truly made real because of our IDG Summit partners and we could not put on the Girls Speak Out, 11 Days of Action, or IDG Webcast without their time, energy, and passion. A few of our key partners for these initiatives include (in no particular order): Coalition for Adolescent Girls, Working Group on Girls, Plan International’s Because I am a Girl Campaign, Alice Paul Institute, Bella Abzug Leadership Institute, Girls Learn International, SPARK Movement, Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Women & Girls Foundation, I am a Girl Documentary, Teach a Girl to Lead, Pink Lemonade Stand Foundation, Girl Scouts of the USA, Intel and many others.

BLaP: Where do you see the movement headed over the next 5 years?

Emily: Over the next 5 years, I would expect the girls’ rights movement to continue to grow locally and globally. I think we will see an increase in the numbers of girls speaking out about issues in their communities, and bringing attention to how they advocate for change. I hope to see more collaboration amongst girl-centered organizations and also see more opportunities for girls to speak for themselves at high level, international, national and local events. In the spirit of IDG, I think it is critical that girls speak for girls and that they have the chance to advocate for their rights, and challenge the global injustices faced by girls daily.

BLaP: How can we help support your mission?

Emily: We invite everyone to join in any or all of our initiatives for IDG. Join the 11 Days of Action campaign which starts Oct. 1 – Oct. 11th on our website; everyday one of our partner organizations will organize an action for girls to take via social media to raise awareness about girls’ rights and power globally. Participate in the Oct. 11th Webcast, which includes a Twitter chat, Google Hangout, and film screening of Raising Ms President. Or come to the Girls Speak Out at the United Nations on October 10th – and if you can’t come in person, watch the event LIVE on our website at 3PM EST. We will also feature some of the performances on our website throughout the month of October.

Support our Indiegogo Campaign and help ensure that we can continue to bring girls’ voices to the United Nations, and engage girls through the IDG Summit signature initiatives. You can get an official IDG T-Shirt or join the 1st Global Girls Delegation for IDG! https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/international-day-of-the-girl-summit-idg2014

And of course, follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/DayoftheGirlSummit) or Twitter @IDG2014 to keep the conversation going about girls’ empowerment globally.

Thank you, Emily, for your time with this interview, as well as for all the work you do to continue helping girls around the world live a safer and more illustrious life. When girls thrive, the world thrives.

Please help support the conversation by sharing this information with all your friends and, as always, thanks for stopping by Beyond Lipstick and Petticoats!

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On The Importance of the Global Education of Girls

photo (98)I remember sitting on the sofa, listening to my grandmother’s stories about her coming-of-age days during the final years of WWII. After her high school graduation she entered the work force in The City (that would be New York City, of course), where she and her fellow office girls defied cultural and professional dress codes by painting tan, narrow stripes down the backs of their calves in an effort to look as if they were wearing those highly-rationed, rare extravagances otherwise known as stockings. On the weekends she and her sisters frequented the local USO where, as Billy Joel once sang, men “ask(ed) them to dance, dance(d) with ‘em slow”. On one of those USO visits she met and fell in love with a young sailor. The romance ended shortly after the war ended, but Handsome Sailor left my grandmother with a precious memento of their love affair: my mother.

By the time my mom was two years old, my grandmother found herself a single mother in the late 1940s. She moved in with her mother and continued working in an effort to support herself and her daughter. Feeling stuck and overwhelmed, she married a man who didn’t treat her well in exchange for putting a roof over their heads.

My mother, on the other hand, attempted to pursue her educational dreams by enrolling at the local junior college after high school graduation. She, too, met a handsome young sailor and, anxious to set up her own home and enjoy some element of independence from her parents, said yes when Dad proposed. They married at the tender ages of 20 and 19. Two kids and eight years later, Mom realized that the independence she was looking for was not just breaking away from her parents by moving out of her childhood home but the growth, maturity, and self-confidence that only comes from learning how to support yourself both financially and emotionally.

Both my mom and grandmother demonstrate the motivation behind the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s: to allow women and girls other options for their academic and economical future than they were historically provided. For my mom and grandmother, and many of their contemporaries, the normal cycle of life dictated that they meet a boy, fall in love, get married, and have babies. But what if women wanted something more? (Gasp!) What if the intellectual stimulation offered by college classes and assignments helped them attain economic independence from their parents? What if the gratification and self-confidence obtained from working in a career that excited them led to more fulfilling relationships with their husbands, children, and peers? And what if those same jobs helped keep their families out of poverty or served to enhance the quality of life and educational opportunities for future generations?

Fortunately for me, the second generation women’s movement meant greater opportunities and options for girls. Unlike the youthful days of my mother and grandmother, attending university in the 1980s was no longer a luxury afforded only to boys – or wealthy girls whose families sent them off to school to look for a suitable husband. Thanks to federal legislation that created more funding sources combined with the efforts of the State of Florida to provide better access to higher education to more of its students, enrollment in the University of Florida was very much a realistic and attainable goal for me. In fact, in my mother’s eyes, obtaining a college degree was the ONLY option available to me when I graduated from high school.

So, two months after my anti-climatic graduation from high school, Mom loaded me and my foot locker full of earthly belongings into her car and drove me to that beautiful campus of red brick, Gothic buildings covered with thick ivy and surrounded by stately live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Then, after waving good-bye to my mom as she drove away, in the words of the ever-inspiring Indigo Girls, “I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper, and I was free”.

For me, those four years of learning and maturing, followed by a couple of years earning a decent living, helped me grow into a stronger, more independent woman and, eventually, a better companion for my husband and sound role model for my sons and daughters – something my mom and grandmother both envisioned when they encouraged me to pursue my education before committing to marriage and raising a family.

While we must continue our diligence to overcome such issues as domestic violence, poverty, and the lingering gender stereotypes that inhibit girls’ educational opportunities here in the United States, we must also now turn our attention toward the extreme discrimination against girls throughout the world that inhibits their ability to experience the same opportunities for economic independence and growth that I found in the 1980s. As stated by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard,

“I think across the world, as we talk about women in developing countries, there’s been increasing recognition that empowering women and girls is a key change agent for development. There have been some truly shocking incidents that have caused us to have tears in our eyes and sharply intake our breath—what happened to Malala, what has happened with the Nigerian schoolgirls—that powerfully remind us that in some part of the world, getting an education is still a very dangerous thing for a girl. Education is powerful, which is why some people want to stop it and why we should feel so passionate about assuring that it occurs.”

This week world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly have discussed the issues surrounding gender inequality. Goodwill ambassador for U.N. Women, Emma Watson, delivered an inspiring speech about feminism while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed U.N. delegates regarding the impact of the Clinton Global Initiative and its future goals. This focus on girls and education leads us to the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, 2014, where leaders in promoting worldwide education equality will celebrate the progress made toward girls’ global education these past twenty years as well as look to the future and what remains to be done in order to continue to help make education safe and accessible for girls everywhere.

Remember, only when girls and women have the same educational and economic opportunities as boys and men will we then be able to truly overcome poverty.

On “Writer’s Block”

Manymother and daughter days I sit and stare at my blank computer page while dozens of ideas flow through my head. They start at one side of my brain, squiggle their way into the area just behind my forehead – where I spend a few minutes contemplating them – and then quickly race off as the next set of ideas chases them away, demanding that I move my focus from the old, fleeting thoughts to the newer, stronger, prettier ones. And, of course you know what happens, right? Yup. I wind up with nothing on the page.

Today I found myself sitting in front of my laptop, contemplating all kinds of topics such as what cultural triggers caused my mother and grandmother to marry at young ages, even though they preferred to pursue their own educational or professional interests, or the various ever-present issues surrounding the treatment of girls in sports. I even spent a few minutes basking in the joy of observing my daughter share an article on her Twitter feed about the continued economic importance of women’s access to birth control.

And I wondered to myself, “What, if anything, does any of this have to do with celebrating women? How do I write about any of these topics and bring about some sort of resolution?”

While admittedly these topics are quite broad and individually provide enough fodder for blog posts of their own, I think for today I will just keep them together and address the importance of the fact that not a day passes that I don’t think about things that affect women in some way or another. And neither should you.

For example, think, for just a second, about your mom. Did you ever take time to find out what motivates her to pursue the interests that she does? What are her greatest achievements? Does she have any regrets? Why did she make the decisions she did that led her to her present stage in life? Were her decisions based on cultural ideals that dictated “proper” behavior at that time? Or were they based on goals and dreams she – and perhaps those whom she admired and respected – designed for herself? If you, like me, have spent energy researching and contemplating these things, then good for you! You, too, are celebrating women on a regular basis simply by harboring a genuine interest in the lives of the women important to you.

If, however, you don’t know the answers to any of these questions, then consider yourself challenged. Go, now, and ask your mom (or your grandmother, or your sister, or your wife, or your next-door neighbor) the following questions: What motivated you to (marry/not marry, earn a degree, seek out a specific profession, have/not have children, etc.)? How did you feel you fit in with the cultural norms of your youth? Or, did you not fit in? How do you feel about your decision now? What was your greatest achievement and why? What are your hopes and dreams for girls and women of the future?

Take time to learn about the women around you.

After all, knowledge is power, and once all of us learn to appreciate the importance of allowing our girls to pursue their hopes and dreams in the same manner we allow our boys to do so, our economies strengthen, our world grows safer, and our lives become more enriched.

On Education and Girls

School girl in Sri Lanka

School girl in Sri Lanka

All my life my mother encouraged me to attend college, obtain a degree, and procure a job before I married. Her reasoning for pushing me toward an education and a career rested on the fact that for many women in her generation college – and its resulting career path – was not a viable option available to them. In 1965 Congress passed the Higher Education Act (HEA), which created Federal funding opportunities for students from low-income families. In 1972 the HEA was further enhanced by the passage of Title IX, as well as various amendments through the late 1970’s, thus making college a realistic option for low- and middle-income students, especially women. By the time I graduated from high school, in 1984, government grants and various scholarships created options for higher education for anyone who chose to continue his or her education beyond the secondary level, not just the very wealthy.

These changes – especially Title IX – instituted a shift in the population demographic at colleges and universities across the U.S. At my alma mater, the University of Florida, which did not admit women until 1947, the number of women enrollees has exceeded men since 1998. This trend mirrors the rest of the country, where women have steadily outnumbered men at both public and private colleges and universities since the 1970’s, bringing the ratio of male to female students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions to 40-60.

So, what does all this mean for women and Society in general?

It means greater opportunity for our girls. It means greater opportunity for our economy. It means better, more fulfilling adulthood, marriages, and families for our children – both our boys and our girls.

It means that our country thrives when ALL members have equal opportunity for education and employment.

Knowing how education of all children benefits our society here in the U.S., imagine how global poverty might be impacted if girls around the world are provided the same educational opportunities as boys. The effects of educating girls and reducing global illiteracy rates can be seen through the efforts of such groups as Save the Children and the United Nations. When women are educated, they are “more likely to send their children (especially girls) to school, become more economically self-reliant, and more actively engaged in their country’s social, political, and cultural life.” (Global Female Illiteracy by Nadiya Omar)

While major obstacles exist in areas such as rural Pakistan (where the literacy rate among women is a mere 8%) and Guinea (where the literacy rate for men is 50% compared to 26% for women), both government and non-government organizations are making some headway in demonstrating the positive impact and economic importance of educating girls. Infant mortality rates, juvenile deaths, maternal childbirth fatalities, credit services, and economic prosperity are all linked to literacy. Unfortunately, many extremely rural areas are dominated by religious culture that prohibits educating girls – a gross misinterpretation of Islam – and thus leaders of these communities are most resistant to instituting change in their educational practices. (Omar) Fortunately, the United Nations, through the work of its various branches such as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) and UNGEI (United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative) has led the way in combating global illiteracy by launching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are part of the Global Partnership for Development. In 2000, world leaders adopted eight goals, set to be achieved by 2015, that are both global and local. The main purpose of the MDGs is to ensure that human development will reach everyone, everywhere, cutting world poverty in half, thereby saving tens of millions of lives.

Educating girls clearly sits at the top of this list of goals.

Organizations such as The Borgen Project, CARE, Camfed, Central Asia Institute, Developments in Literacy, and The Girl Effect all work toward improving educational opportunities for girls throughout the world.  Through the power of technology you, too, can get involved in educating the world’s girls. Simply click on any of the above links, or head over to Educating Girl Matters, and select the organization that appeals to you and your concerns. All of these organizations provide information about the global crisis of illiteracy among girls as well as ways individuals can get involved in helping overcome the crisis.

So, go, click, learn, and help. But don’t go without telling us about your own educational experiences in the comments section below! Did your family promote education for girls? Were you aware of the crisis of illiteracy among women? Do you currently support these or any other organizations that work to educate girls?

On Gloria Steinem and Women’s Rights

gloria steinemBack in March, when Gloria Steinem turned 80 (I know, I can’t believe it, either), I found myself pondering our country’s most notable feminist leader and what her work – and the work of so many other women before, during, and since her rise to notoriety – has meant for women both here in the United States and throughout the world.

Because of Steinem’s work and her willingness to speak out on the inequalities that she witnessed toward women in society, the workplace, and academia, my contemporaries and I have enjoyed a wider range of opportunities than our female predecessors did.  Today’s women find themselves more affluent, more powerful, and more respected, perks that enable them to further create even greater opportunities for other girls and women throughout the world. Oprah, Madonna, and Angelina Jolie all build schools for girls; Meryl Streep donates her resources to support the National Women’s History Museum; Christy Turlington-Burns supports maternal health care in developing nations; Salma Hayek raises awareness and aid for battered women; and Charlize Theron works to help decrease the number of young people in Africa who are affected by HIV/Aids.  Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court (followed by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan). while Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to run on a presidential ticket (followed by Sarah Palin), and Madeleine Albright became the first female Secretary of State (followed by Condoleeza Rice and Hilary Clinton). Today both political junkies and casual observers of current events wait with bated breath for the moment when Hilary Clinton officially announces her intention to break that last glass ceiling in our country: the presidency.

As they say, we’ve come a long way, baby.

And yet, today, as I sit here, over two hundred girls – victims of kidnappings by the terrorist group, Boko Haram – remain missing after more than three weeks.

The world is outraged by this unconscionable crime against innocent girls, and understandably so. To deny girls an education is an offense many of us find inexcusable not just from an equality standpoint, but from an economic one, as well.  But, to remove girls from their school against their wishes and sell them into “marriage”? Unfathomable.

In 2014, almost a century after women in the United States finally won the right to vote (in a country whose founding principles state, “All men are created equal”), women and girls still experience persecution and abuse here and in other parts of the world.

But, things are getting better.  The Nigerian government finally requested outside help in locating the kidnapping victims (although, let’s face it, it’s probably too late for many of those girls) and acknowledged that they need to address the terrorism issues that have plagued the country for several years. Women of influence, such as former First Lady Laura Bush, continue to promote equality in education and economic opportunities (otherwise known as feminism) for women in the Middle East and Africa. Schools throughout the world encourage girls to pursue traditionally male-dominated fields of study such as math and science. And, more and more frequently we see women move into positions of leadership in all aspects of life from business to politics to the arts.

Every week this blog will endeavor to highlight the achievements of women both locally and globally. It will also look at programs in education that seek to provide opportunities for girls to pursue their academic and extra- curricular interests, no matter how conventional – or unconventional – they may be. Additionally, this blog will offer a space to discuss those issues of concern that require attention and will offer suggestions on ways we can continue to combat the inequities our sisters face that prohibit them from reaching their fullest potential spiritually, intellectually, and economically.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey to promote the continuing efforts of those who work to make the world a better place for everyone, regardless of gender.

After all, there is more to women than just lipstick and petticoats….