The Day of the Girl

Malala Yousafzai

Today, October 11, has been declared by the UN as the first worldwide Day of the Girl. There are a lot of international action days out there, but I want to highlight today because recent events have shown us that there are so many challenges faced by girls worldwide:

  • Child Marriage is a special focus of action today. UN Women shares these factoids: Globally, one-third of young women were entered into marriage before age 18. One in six were married by age 15. 90% of teen pregnancies in developing countries are to girls who are married; child marriage legitimates pregnancies early in life, which can be detrimental to the health of these girls.
  • Maternal mortality is a related issue, since complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death for women aged 15-19 in developing countries. (UN) These problems are further exacerbated by the problem of female genital mutilation, which is widely practiced on girls in several African countries.
  • While access to education for girls has improved, many women and girls still face barriers to receiving a secondary and tertiary (university) education, and even completing primary school can be impossible in some parts of the world. If you haven’t read about Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban after speaking out for female education, please check out her story. Malala is still fighting for her life, and her father (who supported her fight for an education) is also on a Taliban hit list.

If you want to take action for girls today, the AAUW has some suggestions. Use social media to share information about the Day of the Girl today, and write to your Congressperson–or Congressional candidates–to ask where they stand on HR2103 (The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act) and other efforts to protect women and girls worldwide. Find a volunteer program close to home that helps girls, like the Girl Scouts or Girls on the Run, and find out how you can support their efforts. Remember that girls in your community may also be affected by poverty and malnutrition. Internationally, consider supporting the efforts of UNICEF, Camfed, and other charities that support the health, education, and welfare of girls. We all have a role in helping to support girls, whether you are male or female. The girls of today are the mothers, the workers, and the hope of tomorrow. Let’s make a better world for them.

Today in the War on Women…

Well, I have nothing exciting to tell you all about my own life today. (Yes, the so-called “Spring Break” has become a work-fest these past couple of days… Got to do something about that.) Instead, I would like to share some recent updates in the “War on Women.” You may have heard that republican candidate Rick Santorum has been winning some primaries lately, especially in Southern and conservative states. While Mitt Romney still has the lead in terms of delegates, and it would be difficult for Santorum to win the nomination outright, it seems the conservative message has him rattled.

I was annoyed and amazed to see that Romney is now talking about getting rid of Planned Parenthood in order to pander to the conservative vote, in spite of his support of the organization while he was in Massachusetts. The idea of “getting rid of” PP is a stupid one, for several reasons:

  • PP is not a public enterprise. As explained by the folks over at Jezebel, only about 1/3 of PP’s budget comes from public funding and none of that money goes to abortion services. Doesn’t the intervention of government in a private enterprise seem, I don’t know, contrary to the conservative ideology?
  • Given that 97% of PPs services are not abortion, even if conservatives managed to get rid of PP in order to eliminate abortions, who will pick up the slack on all the other services PP offers? The need for contraception, STD screenings, cancer screenings, health education, prenatal and postnatal care, rape crisis services, and so forth will not go away just because PP is eliminated. In his platform to eliminate PP, does Romney propose to address this? Given that he also has a platform to cut the deficit, I doubt he’ll be offering funding to any new services or alternative organizations. It seems like those who can’t afford will just have to go without if PP is gone.
  • Romney’s rhetoric is also not smart, because he still has to win a general election in a country where women–shock!–actually have the right to vote for or against him. Centrist women, even those who usually vote Republican, are disillusioned with their choices. The Obama team has taken notice, and is launching a major initiative to appeal to women voters.

The downside to this debate is obvious: It’s scary to a lot of us women to hear serious, national political discourse questioning not only whether our contraception should be covered, but whether we should have access to it at all. (And, note, it’s only access to women-consumed forms of contraception like the pill that are being debated. I haven’t heard anyone talking about getting rid of condoms and vasectomies) The debate also seems a stupid distraction at a time when the economy is still struggling and many Americans are finding it hard to get by. The upside, which is exciting to me as a feminist and a political scientist, is that this is a tremendous opportunity for women voters to make themselves heard. Organized and unorganized women-driven activism has made a difference this year on issues like the Komen funding debate and Rush Limbaugh’s ad hominem examples of uncivil discourse. Women have the power to swing this election either way. We are not a “segment” of voters–we are half the electorate. And while we’re at it, maybe we can get some more women into office. This 17% female representation in Congress doesn’t seem to be working for us.

The Politics of Breast Cancer Awareness

I’ve been sharing this 2011 Marie Claire article widely since the Susan G. Komen for the Cure/Planned Parenthood debacle erupted a couple of days ago, so I thought I’d share it here, too. I’m fully supportive of Planned Parenthood, but I’ve also been suspicious of Susan G. Komen ever since I read what Marie Claire had to say about them last October. It’s amazing that there can be so little oversight of charities or of businesses claiming to donate in support of a cause. It’s also troubling that a single organization that grossed more than $400 million in 2010 does not show up on the list of organizations that donate most of their funds to research and treatment. If you’re not inclined to read the entire article, skip to page 4 for a list of alternative organizations to which you can donate. I don’t know the politics of these organizations vis a vis family planning, but it is nice to know that they are putting your money to work in the way you probably intended.

It seems the online world is on fire about this issue (or maybe it’s just my little overwhelmingly feminist circle of bloggers/acquaintances/colleagues), and the worst part for Komen may be the way that this decision is drawing attention to other serious questions about its financing, fundraising, and the politics behind its decisions.