Caring for Girls Worldwide

This week, a friend sent me the link to a grassroots effort taking place right now, and suggested Kendra and I might want to participate. Bloggers worldwide are writing about The Girl Effect, hoping to raise awareness about the plight of girls in poverty, who often grow up illiterate, then are married at a young age, then become pregnant and even more vulnerable: to death in childbirth, to HIV, to isolation and abuse. (You can find other blog posts about The Girl Effect here.)

The Girl Effect movement argues that changes in the lives of girls as old as twelve might alter her entire life’s trajectory. If a girl in poverty can be educated, she will be better informed about her own health and that of her family, and can make different choices about who she marries, whether she has children (and when), and how she relates to those around her. In other words, by transforming girls’ lives, we have the opportunity to transform entire communities.

It’s a compelling idea, and one that Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof address in their extraordinary book, Half the Sky. (Those who know me well have no doubt heard me talk about this work, ad nauseum.) WuDunn and Kristof’s research led them to conclude that educating women, providing them with microloans, and allowing them to speak into their own life choices made vast differences to their own quality of life—and to that of their families.

In the midst of my own research about the ways evangelical Christian culture shapes girls’ perceptions of self and of God, this is a sobering reminder: that although I believe girls in our country often receive negative messages about who they can become, there are millions of girls elsewhere who have virtually no voice in what will become of them. As a person of faith, I need to find ways to speak for those girls, to help them find opportunity and freedom.

I’m not sure yet what this advocacy might look like, and I’m open to suggestions. Giving each year to Mennonite Central Committee and to Women For Women International is no longer enough; I would like to find other ways to promote The Girl Effect, beyond merely sending in a donation, and hope you will join me in this journey.

In this video, you hear one woman’s story about how she raised herself and her family out of poverty. Although there are a number of such stories on The Girl Effect website, this one speaks best to me, given my personal connection to India through my son, born to a woman who—because of poor health and poverty—didn’t have the opportunity to raise the beautiful, talented, funny boy who has become mine.