by Michele Yulo
There are many wonderful organizations that work to improve the lives of women and girls around the world, but I think that, often, as individuals we ask, "What can I do? I'm just one person." It's easy to feel helpless when it comes to these overwhelming issues that require tremendous resources. And so you might also ask yourself: "If I want to help by making a donation, how do I decide which charity?" or, "If I want to focus on service, how do I decide which way is best for me?"
Sometimes, it takes a spark of inspiration--that one little thing that moves you to action. A few months ago, I posted this picture on my Facebook page that I had shared from SHARE.org's Facebook page. Underneath the picture was written, very simply: "I am a girl. I am important." I was so emotionally struck by the photo of a smiling, seemingly happy, young girl with a beautiful bright smile. But the words had a greater impact. "I am a girl. I am important." To me, this sentiment is at the very core of what has become a global imperative to raise girls up out of extreme situations that not only negatively impact girls and women, but everyone around them. The very fact that it needs to be said is somewhat disheartening, but the message must be recognized and rallied around in order to create the change that is desperately needed to make the world a better place. After seeing this photo, I knew I wanted to do something.
SHARE was founded by an amazing young woman named Shannon McNamara. SHARE stands for Shannon's After-school Reading Exchange. She and her organization are doing incredible things in parts of Africa to empower girls, and all children, by providing reading programs, books, and libraries to communities that lack these necessary links to education--especially for girls. Here is Shannon on the Nate Berkus show speaking about her experiences and why she felt the need to create SHARE.
Sadly, around the world, girls are undervalued, underestimated, uneducated, used, abused, and ignored. Research shows that the plight of girls is directly linked to many of the world's problems like hunger, economic disparity, and disease. Inevitably, helping girls and women in various ways can have a tremendously positive impact; one way to do this is through efforts to improve education.
Indeed, education is one of the keys that can unlock the lives of girls everywhere and bring prosperity and improvement to many global communities. Hillary Clinton, speaking at UNESCO's Global Partnership for Girls' and Women's Education last May, said "...we know opening the doors of education to women and girls is not just the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing as well. The evidence shows conclusively that even one extra year of schooling leads to significantly higher wages for women and girls, which allows them to lift up themselves, their families, and contribute to their communities and countries."
I am an avid reader of Nicholas Kristof, of the NY Times, who writes frequently on the plight of girls and women in parts of the world that many of us have never been to. He relays gut-wrenching true stories of young girls who have experienced things that are just unimaginable. Through his columns, we also learn about girls who are incredibly strong and willing to undergo extreme hardship, often just to learn. An article in the NY Times called "The Women's Crusade" speaks to some of these stories of women who have endured horrifying situations only to rise up and make their situations better. Based on the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the article opens by saying that "[t]here’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution." [my italics]
So, this is my contribution, inspired by a smiling little girl in Africa--a t-shirt bearing the message "Girls Are Important" that can be worn by everyone; and from which a portion from the sale of each shirt will be going directly to SHARE, so that they can continue their good work. I am hopeful that even this small effort can make a difference and allow others to feel that they are helping as well. Because, as Laurie Mazur says, in her article, "Of Rights and Resilience: Why Women’s Rights are Key to Thriving in the Age of the 'Black Swan,'” "...no nation can afford to squander half of its human capital." Princess Free Zone wants to be part of a movement that makes sure that doesn't happen. And, while we shouldn't even have to say it, until all girls are treated as important--until we can be sure that all girls enjoy basic human rights and are treated with equal respect--the message must continue. Because girls are important. To everyone, everywhere.