Why #GIRLWITHABOOK Matters

A fabulous, fabulous post from #GIRLWITHABOOK co-founder Lena Shareef. It’s Olivia posting this, so this isn’t shameless self-promotion, it’s shameless buddy/partner/friend promotion. Remember to vote! Less than 24 hours left : http://expeditiongranted.nationalgeographic.com/project/girlwithabook/

LENA SHAREEF

Recently, a friend and supporter of #GIRLWITHABOOK reminded me that although National Geographic is known for spectacular nature and wildlife photography, its most famous image is a portrait of a 12-year-old Afghan refugee girl named Sharbat Gula. Her photograph was taken at a refugee camp at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The photographer was Steve McCurry and he found her sitting in a tent, which served as a girls’ school.

Like millions of people, this portrait captured my heart almost the moment I first saw it. And now every time I look at it, I think of the mere 12% literacy rate for girls in Pakistan, I think of the 200,000 women in South Africa who are victims of violence every year, I think of the countless women in the US who are raped on college campuses.

This photograph reminds of girls and women who are denied their rights to this day. But it…

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DROP BOOKS NOT BOMBS

By Olivia Curl, #GIRLWITHABOOK co-founder

This post is part of #GIRLWITHABOOK’s Expedition Granted Series. Please vote for our expedition proposal every day through 9/29 and spread the word! When you vote you’re standing up for girls and education world-wide. 

Vote Here: http://expeditiongranted.nationalgeographic.com/project/girlwithabook/

Okay, perhaps it’s not that simple. I majored in International Studies with concentrations in Global Security and the Middle East, and my thesis was a National Intelligence Estimate on Syria’s influence regarding Jordanian stability. I’m no cupcake when it comes to the Middle East and conflict, so please don’t try to tell to me that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I know more than your average Joann (and Joe, for that matter). However, I graduated four months ago, and I’m quite enjoying not having to think about (and get graded on) war every day. I’m not here to talk about ISIS (news flash: they suck) or the highly complicated confluence of events and choices (many of which were at the discretion of the US) that led to the current crisis in Syria and Iraq.

Instead we’re going to talk about a grand hypothetical: What if the United States invested in education, at home and internationally, at the same rate that the government private corporations invested in the military/defense/intelligence apparatus? Education has one of the highest ROI’s of any social investment. Educating girls especially increases social dividends. And if you’re an economics person, consider this: for every 10 percent increase in the number of educated girls, GDP increases by 3 percent. Three percent is not small potatoes when you’re talking GDP.

US foreign aid accounts for less than one percent of US GDP. It’s a tiny fraction that has the potential to do a lot of good world-wide, and small increases in this spending has the potential to increase dividends around the world, strengthen communities, and, you know, stop wars and stuff. It would be dandy if folks could stop complaining that we spend too much on foreign aid. We don’t spend enough. 

Consider this: what if investing in education was a cornerstone of national security policy? What if supporting communities in increasing education access, especially for girls, was taken seriously by military commanders? What if the old boys’ clubs of the US government advocated relentlessly for universal primary education?

Make that kind of investment consistently for the next 10 years, I’d argue that dropping bombs won’t need to be a consideration nearly as often 20 years from now. Isn’t that worth it?

If you agree that education, especially for girls, is a worthwhile investment, vote for #GIRLWITHABOOK to win National Geographic’s Expedition Granted competition.

 

Emma Watson Wins All Day, Every Day

EmmaWatsonUN

By Lena Shareef, #GIRLWITHABOOK co-founder

This post is part of #GIRLWITHABOOK’s Expedition Granted Series. Please vote for our expedition proposal every day through 9/29 and spread the word! When you vote you’re standing up for girls and education world-wide. 

Vote Here: http://expeditiongranted.nationalgeographic.com/project/girlwithabook/

I have a huge friend crush on Emma Watson. Meaning I wish we were friends in real life, the kind who hang out all the time and get brunch together. I felt even stronger about this after watching the speech she gave at the United Nations earlier this week on the dire need for gender equality.

If you missed her speech, be sure to watch it here:

The topics she brought up are very close to my heart. Especially when she spoke about the negative reactions she sees every time the word, “feminist” is uttered anywhere. The launch of the He for She campaign couldn’t have come at a better time. I, like Emma, am also constantly having to explain that feminism does not = man hating. In fact, feminism works to promote the rights of men AND women. But if we’re going to win this fight against sexual violence, sexual harrassment, discrimination, inequality, then we need everyone to participate.

As the He for She website states, “Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue.”

When we first started #GIRLWITHABOOK, Olivia and I noticed right away that we weren’t receiving as many photos from boys or men. Sure, there were great pictures from dads with their daughters or mothers with their young boys, but we only got a handful of photos from young men standing on their own with a book in their hands. Even if I specifically asked, the response I kept getting from my male friends and family was, “Oh but you’re doing this for girls. There’s no point in me posting a picture.” But there is! It makes just as big of an impact if not more for people to see a young man making a stand for women’s rights and girls’ education.

That’s why I’m loving everything about the He for She campaign. Now, finally, there’s an active effort being made to include boys and men in our fight for gender equality. Men, this is your call to action. Stand with us.

Dreams From My Grandmother

By Olivia Curl, #GIRLWITHABOOK co-founder

This post is part of #GIRLWITHABOOK’s Expedition Granted Series. Please vote for our expedition proposal every day through 9/29 and spread the word! When you vote you’re standing up for girls and education world-wide. 

Vote Here: http://expeditiongranted.nationalgeographic.com/project/girlwithabook/

Sometimes I wonder why I feel so strongly about advocating for girls’ education. I know the statistics backwards and forwards. I can recite horrific data on child marriage, literacy rates, primary school enrollment broken down by gender, in my sleep. But as much as I’m a numbers nerd, data doesn’t make people “tick.”

I don’t have to look far for my inspiration, for I come from a line of female education fighters.

My grandmother Rose was born in 1934 on a tiny island, the most western point of Europe. She was the 14th child born to her 42 year old mother and 70-something year old father, though the 12th and 13th children both died in infancy. Both were also named Rose. When he went to get her baptized in the neighboring town, my great-grandfather had forgotten to ask my great-grandmother what to name my grandmother. Not wanting to walk all the way home, he had her baptized Rose, just as the other two babies before her, hoping that she too would “go to be with God” instead of growing up poor on the island. That’s the nice way of putting it. But my grandmother is a fighter and she was there to stay.

We are from an island called Flores, flowers in Portuguese. A rural island, then neglected by a dictatorial government, with little to no opportunity to move up in life without leaving the island. My grandma lost her dad at 3 months, her mother just before her 13th birthday. She didn’t own a pair of shoes until she was 10, but she dreamed of going to college. She would pour over catalogues showing the prestigious Coimbra University with their students milling about campus, wearing the traditional capes. My grandma dreamed of getting to wear that cape. She dreamed of college.

She completed the 5th grade, dreaming to continue on, but was unable to.

At 16 she married my grandfather, at 17 she immigrated to the US.

She lied about her age to get a job. Taught herself English by listening to the radio.

She lied about her age again to attend high school, but after a few magical years of learning (and joining the basketball and trampoline teams), she was pregnant with my uncle at the age of 22 and left school.

My mom was born when she was 26, and at the age of 30 my grandma was widowed when a log-mill accident killed my grandfather.

My grandmother went on to single-handedly put both of her kids through college, my uncle through law school too.

I’ve heard of nothing more from my grandmother than the importance of getting an education. She wasn’t able to get the degrees she dreamed of, but she transferred those dreams into her children and grandchildren. Thanks to my grandma, my mom and uncle were the first in our extended family (36 cousins in their generation alone) to graduate from college. In May of this year, I was her first grandchild to graduate from college. She always tells me that in my dreams for learning and travel I’m “doing exactly what [she] would be doing if [she] was my age.”

Olivia and her grandmother Rose, May 2014

Olivia and her grandmother Rose, May 2014

I’m thankful to have had such a strong woman advocating for my education in my corner, and I feel compelled to continue to direct that energy towards other girls who need someone rooting for them in their corner. This blog is a method of that encouragement, but it’s also a wake up call, a gentle but persistent nudge to those who had someone in their corner, to keep learning, to keep questioning, to keep working towards a world where all girls claim education as their right.

If you share in this hope of a world where education access is taken for granted by all, please vote daily for #GIRLWITHABOOK’s expedition proposal in National Geographic’s Expedition Granted competition. When you vote, you stand up for girls and education world-wide.

 

Rape Culture is Universal*

*Trigger warning: rape, rape culture, violence against women, glamorization of rape culture

Rape Culture. It’s everywhere. It’s in the way we speak, the way we walk. The ways we expect things of one another and excuse one another. It’s in how we look at the world, how we assign order to chaos, how we explain away inexcusable things.

The prevalence of rape culture is disturbing, it’s also nothing new. Nor are glamorized representations of assault in the media and in movies. None of it is okay, and yet (sadly) I’m rarely surprised when I stumble across victim-blaming, perpetrator-excusing specimens in our “modern” everyday lives. I’m always outraged, but these days “surprised” is not at the top of my platter of emotions.

Two things shook that up for me this week.

nhs rape posterThe first is a poster from the UK’s National Health Service. This victim-blaming poster was initially published in 2006. It reads “One in three reported rapes happens when the victim has been drinking.” Hmm. Not very consistent with the NHS’s (actually helpful and appropriate) guidelines regarding support for survivors of sexual assault: “If you have been sexually assaulted, remember that it wasn’t your fault. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, where you were or whether you had been drinking. A sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator.” This last bit is spot on, but the poster, which ran as a part of the NHS’s 2005-2007 “Know Your Limits” campaign, plops blame squarely on the survivor’s shoulders. Not cool, NHS. A change.org petition has garnered over 100,000 signatures, but the government insists that it will not apologize. Thankfully, a blogger fixed the poster to a much more useful message:

rape poster fixed

Well done blogger friend, well done.

The second appalling slice of rape culture that came to my attention this week was a photo shoot done by Indian fashion photographer Raj Shetye. The shoot glamorizes a woman being leered at and assaulted by several men on a bus. That’s right, on a bus. 

rape_photoshoot_in_2998114bIn 2012 a female student was brutally gang raped after being lured onto a bus by several men. She died 13 days later in the hospital from her injuries. The incident caused a deserving uproar throughout India and the world and more and more attention has been focused on the status of women in India. Apparently Mr. Shetye thought that a bus assault would make for some cool symbolism, saying that “The aim is purely to create art that will garner public opinion about issues that concern women” and that the fashion designers were not credited because the shoot was not for commercial gain.

Personally, I’m with Nirmala Samant, chairwoman of the National Commission for Women, who told Agence France-Presse: “Any person with common sense will understand this is nothing but glorifying of violence.” If Mr. Shetye’s aim truly was to lend a voice to women through the medium he “knows best,” then perhaps a photo essay with consenting survivors would be more meaningful. Or perhaps lending his talents to domestic violence shelters. Or even offering to partner with local and regional governments to create rape prevention posters. I’ve seen the power of photography through my work with #GIRLWITHABOOK, and I wish that Mr. Shetye had chosen to use his talents in a way that moved the conversation forward towards preventing assault and supporting survivors.

That’s rape culture for you. It’s everywhere, regardless of your nationality, religion, or age, rape culture is pervasive. It’s so pervasive, that there are nearly always opportunities to fight it. Pay attention to your speech. Pay attention to what your family and coworkers say about violence. Pay attention to what children hear and teach them consent from an early age. Consent knows no gender, and respect is fundamental. These are powerful ways to change the conversation, which changes attitudes, which changes behavior.

After all, the only way to prevent rape is for people to choose not to rape other people.

 

Peggy Carter is Coming Back

AgentCarter

By Lena Shareef, Co-founder of #GIRLWITHABOOK

You may have heard the news already, but Marvel is bringing Peggy Carter from Captain America back to the screens with her own TV series to be aired in January 2015 on ABC. This is (to say the least) incredible! It’s a huge, bold step for a studio to take and it just goes to show that better opportunities and better representations of women are happening on TV way more than in films.

We live in a world where even Wonder Woman, the most famous female super hero, can’t even get her own movie. We live in a world where there are so few leading women on screen. The Women’s Media Center cites in their Status of Women in U.S. Media 2014 Report that, “In 2012’s top 100 films…females snagged only 28.4% of roles with speaking parts.”

It’s important that Marvel is making a show about a woman from the comic book world/superhero universe. For so long, this space has been dominated by boys and men, both as the characters and the fans. But Marvel has finally taken note of the multitude of female fans and they recognize that plenty of girls have something to say about these superheroes. They are just as much a part of this world.

So far, it looks like Marvel is making an active effort to change their whole universe has looked like for decades. There’s a new Ms. Marvel in town who is a 16-year-old Pakistani-American girl from New Jersey. Her name is Kamala Khan and she’s Muslim. How to describe this? It’s a BIG DEAL.

MsMarvel

Marvel also announced the following a few weeks ago: “This October, Marvel Comics evolves once again in one of the most shocking and exciting changes ever to shake one of the ‘big three’ of Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. No longer is the classic Thunder God able to hold the mighty hammer, Mjölnir, and a brand new female hero will emerge worthy of the name THOR.”

FemaleThor

And the day after that announcement, they stated in a segment of the Colbert Report that the Steve Rogers (the Captain America we all know and love) will hand his shield over to Sam Wilson (Steve’s friend and previously known as the Falcon) , who will then become the first black man to hold that title.

SamWilson

Mind you, these last three changes mentioned above are only taking place in comic books, not in any movies or on the big screen. But representation anywhere can still have an impact everywhere. It still matters.

In the meantime, at least we can watch Agent Carter as we wait for the rest of the movie industry to get used to the idea that women (and anyone besides straight, white men) have stories to tell too.

Stand Up for Vulnerable Girls

Girl Summit.

1 in 7 girls in the global south will marry before the age of 18. That’s 14 million girls a year whose education will be cut short. Whose health will be put at a much higher risk. Who will not realize their full potential because they did not experience a full childhood.

I think about these data points a lot. Girls who are pregnant below the age of 15 are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy related complications than women in their 20s. Five times. Under 15 years old. Babies having babies and dying because of it. I think about this often. But it’s not enough to linger on globally extrapolated abstractions. The numbers are important, but so are the stories.

Today, while officials meet in the UK to discuss (and theoretically commit to) ending child and forced marriages and female genital mutilation within this generation, let us turn our attention to Syrian refugees scattered throughout Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. Child marriage is becoming commonplace in refugee camps and it’s reeking havoc on the region’s already vulnerable girls.

[Trigger warning: rape]

Students carry their chairs into a UNICEF run school in Zaatari Camp near Irbid, Jordan. Photo credit: http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2013/02/03/264213.html

Students carry their chairs into a UNICEF run school in Zaatari Camp near Irbid, Jordan. Photo credit: http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2013/02/03/264213.html

In Jordan, 1 out of 3 registered marriages among Syrian refugees between January and March 2014 involved children, and 48 percent of child marriages were between a girl and a man at least 10 years older than her.

Families say that the security situation in refugee camps makes their daughters vulnerable: men and teenage boys openly leer at girls in tents and shacks, there is no privacy, and waves of rape attacks scare families into marrying their daughters off. Single girls are perceived as targets for rape more so than married girls. We, also, cannot ignore the economic situation for refugees that makes child marriage seem like a more reasonable (?) option for desperate families.

Many girls are married to local men, and also men from the Gulf. These men essentially go “shopping” for brides in the refugee camps and offer families a “bride price.” Now, a little religion lesson for those of you less familiar with Islamic law and marriage. Money and gifts exchanged at the time of marriage are traditionally negotiated between the two families and are supposed to serve as financial assurance (and indeed, insurance) for the bride. To give her some financial autonomy and stability in the event of divorce or the husband’s death. However, in these dire situations of child marriage in refugee camps, the money goes to the bride’s family.

Families are financially desperate. They have already been through hell, and their futures are uncertain, unstable, and largely dependent upon social services from the UN and other relief agencies. Add the fear and severe cultural stigma of rape and assault and you have a storm ripe for desperate “solutions.”

In an effort to protect their daughters from rape, refugee families, who love their daughters and are scared, are arranging marriages between their young teenaged daughters and much older men. My thought: Is this not rape in and of itself? Forced marriages between girls who cannot legally or emotionally consent to sexual relationships, and who lack the emotional maturity and skill set to assert themselves within the relationship, to men who are typically much older, are acts of assault. Forced marriage is abuse. Removing girls from school is abuse. Placing them into relationships with an unequal power dynamic is abuse.

As with most things, there are no easy or one-stop-shop solutions. Rape and assault in the camps must be addressed. Security must be a priority for the agencies administering the camps. Girls who are married need to be reached with social services (even more difficult for those who marry local or foreign men and move out of the camps). And finally, the UN should incentivize school attendance for all children, making school attendance just as valuable as a marriage.

For we all know: education (especially for girls) pays dividends and dividends beyond the initial investment. It’s worth it. We need to let our girls learn, and we need to let them be girls.

 

Further Reading:

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jul/16/child-marriage-syria-refugees-jordan

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/17/syrian-mothers-child-brides

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/syrian-women-vie-few-jobs-lebanon-2014628103045288646.html

 

By Olivia Curl, contributor and #GIRLWITHABOOK cofounder