International Women’s Day: The Future is Hers

March 8, 2013 • Daily Email Recap

The Future is Hers


Because of two recent tragedies — the shooting of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai last October, and the rape and murder in December of Indian student Jyoti Singh — girls’ rights have moved to the heart of the global agenda for change just as we celebrate the 102nd International Women’s Day.

And now in quick succession a series of initiatives organized by women for women — including Feb. 14’s V-Day, the Girl Rising films which premiere this week, Girls not Brides, Plan International’s ‘Because I am a Girl’ and Gucci’s new Chime for Change program — are making 2013 a turning point in the fight for the emancipation and empowerment of girls. For it is girls themselves, no longer prepared to tolerate the complacency of the adult world, who are standing up for their own rights. They are not just requesting changes in policy, but demanding that their concerns are center-stage. They sense that the future is theirs.

Understandably the focus of recent campaigns has been securing basic freedoms from forced marriage, violence and rape, as women fight to escape these forms of slavery. But girls want to do more than stop men violating their rights; they want to right wrongs. And so we are moving from the 20th-century movement of women’s emancipation, where the issue was what we sometimes call ‘negative freedom’ — from evils that ruined women’s lives — to the 21st-century empowerment of women. This demands that we also deliver opportunity, helping girls move out of exploitation and into education.

Go to Pakistan, where I met many of the million-strong Malala demonstrators demanding a girl’s right to school. Travel to Bangladesh, where we now have girls who want to be saved from loveless marriages and to go to school, and so have created ‘child-marriage-free zones’, where girls group together as ‘wedding busters’ to prevent them being sold into marriage. Visit Nepal, which led the way in demonstrations for girls’ rights. Attend the marches in India led by child laborers themselves, demanding not just an end to this form of slavery but the delivery of their right to learn a skill.

The demand for education reminds us that for most of history it has been adults — and primarily men — who have dictated whether or not the next generation is free to dream of a better future. But it also shows us girls themselves talking across frontiers and connecting with other girls, determined that adults will no longer trample on their rights. Indeed, the new superpower that cannot be ignored is the power that girls are rightly seizing for themselves.

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