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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

Malala: (One of) Our Favorite Heroine(s)!

This week, #GIRLWITHABOOK is all about preparing for Malala’s 16th birthday and speech at the UN on Friday!

Each day this week we are focusing on a different theme related to supporting girls around the world in their quest for an education. Monday was “All About Education” and today we are featuring “Favorite Heroines, Real and Fictional!”

malala

This week is part of a massive international effort to bring education smack dab in the center of international agenda setters and policy makers. 57 million primary school children out of school is 57 million too many. Goal number two of the millennium development goals (MDGs), universal primary education could very well be the silver bullet that heralds in the other goals. Want to reduce maternal and child mortality? Educate girls about child marriage and their rights (and educate boys about consent and respect). Want to slash HIV infection rates? Educate children about sexual health, contraception, and healthy behavior. Think eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is important? Primary education, simply the ability to read and write, boosts economic returns to unimaginable heights. Promoting gender equality and empowering women? Yeah, you need educated girls and boys for that too. Think folks should have sustainable access to clean water sources? Educate children from an early age on sanitation, hand washing, and identifying safe and unsafe water. Education permeates every corner of the MDGs.

Sadly, many MDGs are falling short of their goals, some troublingly so. But with this international push, maybe we can completely achieve one of the goals. Maybe we can get every primary school child in a classroom, with a teacher, by the end of 2015.

Thanks to Malala’s perseverance, determination, and leadership, international attention is re-focusing on getting 57 million out-of-school children into primary classrooms by 2015. It’s a lofty goal, maybe even improbable or naive, but Malala has shown us that the improbable is possible, and that to keep fighting is the only way forward.

 

Stay with #GIRLWITHABOOK the rest of this week for our Birthday Bash, tweet at us using the hashtag #birthdaybash4malala, and don’t forget to send in photos of YOU wishing Malala a happy birthday, and pledging to stand with her as she speaks at the UN on her very special 16th birthday.

Photos may be emailed to girlwithabookmovement@gmail.com or messaged to us through facebook.

Just Admit It. You’re a Feminist.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard women talk about the importance of gender equality, fair pay, equal access to health, education, etc. and in the same breath say, “…but I’m not a feminist.” It sort of goes along the lines of those who start off their sentences saying, “I’m not a racist, but….” Come on. We all know those people are usually racist. However, in this case women shouldn’t deny being feminists. Being a feminist is a great thing!

I know you don’t believe me. So let’s analyze the various definitions of feminism.

Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending EQUAL political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish EQUAL opportunities for women in education and employment. (via Wikipedia)

1. the theory of the political, economic, and social EQUALITY of the sexes
2. organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests
Social movement that seeks EQUAL rights for women.
(via Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

If you didn’t catch the subtle hints I put in (with the use of the caps lock and bold), the key words in all this are equal and equality. Any decent human being out there believes that men and women are equal. And if they are not equal, then they most certainly should be. So why do we shy away from calling ourselves feminists?

It’s because that word has been dragged through the dirt and slime and mud. It’s been poisoned to the point that people think feminism means being anti-men. I have a father and a brother. I have male cousins and male friends. I have had male teachers and male colleagues.

How does it make any sense for me or any woman to hate ALL men?!

And feminism is not just for women. Any man can be a feminist. In fact, the average man most likely is. Check out this guy. He knows what’s up.

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, it should be this:

It’s time for us to take back the word feminism.

So don’t shy away from calling yourself a feminist. Be proud of it. Don’t deny what you already are.

(Woman on Woman) Crime Compromises Us All

A militant attack in Southwest Pakistan claimed the lives of at least 25 last Saturday, mostly students and nurses, at Sardar Bahadur Khan University, Baluchistan’s only all-female university. A suicide bomber hid on a bus at the end of the day that was to transport students back to a mostly Shi’a Hazara neighborhood before detonating and killing 14 and injuring many many more. Victims were taken to the university’s nearby hospital, where militants stormed the emergency room and a second suicide bomber detonated killing an additional 11 people while the militants indiscriminately opened-fire.

via tribune.com.pk

via tribune.com.pk

This is a disturbing view of the violence and anti-girl fervor that too many female students face around the world. After all, how often do we hear about all-male schools getting shut down, receiving bomb-threats, or getting blown-up because the school serves male students? That’s right. We don’t.

That’s because male education (while important, of course– ALL children have a right to an education and should be able to access it safely) is not threatening to the status quo. Patriarchy reproduces patriarchy, and increasingly, educated, thinking, breathing women showing some spark and life-blood are seen as absolutely terrifying to male-dominated extremist groups trying to maintain their power.

What’s particularly disturbing about the attack in Quetta, on top of the already heinous carnage and loss of life, promising young female lives I might add, is that the attack on the bus was carried out by a female suicide bomber.

Yes. A woman boarded a bus full of other female students, and then detonated on behalf of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Lashkar-e-Jhangri terrorist group.

Now. Women who commit acts of violence are an interesting topic, and one that is frequently exploited by the media to sensationalize and objectify women, neglecting to acknowledge the agency of these women as they make decisions and commit to courses of action. Violent women are often sexualized, identified as angry mothers/wives seeking revenge for their husband’s and/or sons’ deaths, or classified as monsters, mentally unstable or insane women who cannot be held responsible for their actions. Or some combination of the above list. (If you want to read more on the topic of violent women, I highly recommend Mothers, Monsters, Whores by Laura Sjoberg and Caron Gentry).

We’re not going to do that here. We’re not going to sexualize this woman. We’re not going to talk about any men who may be in her life. We’re not going to assume that she was coerced into this action. We’re not going to diagnose her as insane. Because women can and do make decisions and act upon them. After all, women are people.

What we will say is that we are disgusted over the attack, and greatly saddened by it as yet another component in an ever-growing web of resistent women face as they try to access an education. Further saddening is that it was a woman who attacked other women. There is too much difficulty in the world for women without women compromising each others’ future. We don’t need to think or act alike. We shouldn’t be clones of each other or claim that there is only one way to be a woman, a feminist. But I think we can agree that supporting each other to make decisions about our own lives, and being able to access the tools to make those decisions (i.e. education) is something we should all strive to do.