If I wasn’t playing Little House on the Prairie I could usually be found playing school or office or doctor or house. Only when I’d visit Sarah’s house (with the My Little Pony collection to die for) or Brooke’s house (hello, Barbie Everything) would I realize that in comparison I didn’t have many toys.
And although I eventually got a coveted Cabbage Patch Doll for myself, more often than not it was a dress-up box and my imagination that dictated my play. I was the Teacher, the Doctor, the Mom, or the Boss. (Classic first-born child? I think, yes.)
As a child of the late 70’s growing up in the 1980’s it never occurred to me that I couldn’t be a doctor, a Broadway star, a business owner, or the President of the United States. (This was before I learned the President is responsible for making war. I’ve since lost the desire to run for that office.)
Growing up with choices
Like many of you, I grew up in a culture where we watched female CEOs shatter the glass ceiling, female astronauts board space shuttles, female athletes change the landscape of professional sports, and female artists dominating all sorts of space on the radio charts and award ceremony stages.
It was an era marked with the celebration and adoration of strong women taking their place in western society, and as an American coming of age in the late twentieth century my worldview has always included “Just Do It” and “Be All That You Can Be”. Those clever marketing anthems engrained themselves into the fabric of my very being and I never doubted that they applied as much to me as they did the boys.
I’ve simply never known otherwise.
Being empowered through choices
And now, as a grown woman in my mid-thirties my life is filled with choices – many of which I often take for granted.
I had a choice about what I wanted to study in university, or even whether or not I wanted to attend. I have regular democratic choice about who I will vote for to lead my country and define our public policy. I can choose which city to live in, or even which state or which country. I had the choice of marrying or not, and with whom I would pledge my heart and my fidelity. I can choose to pursue pregnancy in my own timing or choose when to use contraceptive. I can choose to carry a baby to term or not, and then choose how I will give birth, and under what sort of care. I can choose to be a homemaker, work at home, or work outside of the home in any number of career opportunities.
I can even choose simple things – pad or tampon? eat in or take-away? movie or a board game? a drink of clean water or a glass of cold milk? twitter or facebook? chevron or polka dots?
But there are 250 million girls around the world who are extremely limited in their choice. Two hundred and fifty million girls who lack access to the kind of world in which I live. Two hundred and fifty million girls living in poverty.
And the biggest difference between these girls and I? The ability to choose.
Because the defining characteristic of poverty isn’t just income or what type of house you live in or if you have comprehensive medical insurance. It’s actually much more baseline than that.
Poverty is essentially a lack of choice. It’s being trapped in a cycle where your hands are tied behind your back and you aren’t even sure of how to dream for the future because you’ve never seen a better way. It’s not knowing your worth and value and potential to not be a victim but to be an agent of change and an influencer to those around you.
Poverty is having no choice of a path leading to a better future, and no voice to help you ask for one.
With 2015 fast-approaching, leaders are recognizing that a plan needs to be set in motion beyond the Millennium Development Goals (as set by the United Nations), which address poverty in the developing world. Although there has been serious headway in achieving the MDGs over the last number of years—and we are absolutely headed in the right direction—there is a very important voice that has not yet been represented well.
As we look to 2015 and beyond, we are imploring that this integral voice be heard within the international community of policy-makers and development organizations:
The voice of the girl.
And why is her voice so desperately important? Not only because girls face appalling discrimination all over the world, but also because girls hold the power to change the course of future families, and therefore communities and entire nations.
Ultimately, girls have the power to change the course of history.
The Girl Declaration
This morning the Girl Declaration was released – a declaration that represents thousands of voices from girls in nations right around the world in hopes that policy makers will take seriously not just the plight, but the possibility of girls. The declaration was created in partnership with twenty-five development agencies and more than 500 girls in fourteen nations across four continents.
Now friends, won’t you join me in using your own choice and voice for the good of our little sisters across the earth? Won’t you help me in giving our collective YES to making room for them to help create and influence their own future?
Here it is, the #GirlDeclaration:
The Girl Declaration (an initiative of The Girl Effect) will be presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the United Nations on October 11th – the International Day of the Girl. Let’s use the next ten days to make the declaration famous and make sure their voices are heard.
Let’s empower these girls and young women to have a voice, and ultimately, to have choices in how their future plays out.
So what can we do?
–> Utilize social media, especially between now and October 11. Share the Girl Declaration graphic above (or any of mine – just right click and save) or share this post or the Girl Effect website using the hashtag #girldeclaration. Let’s use social media to stand in solidarity with those who’s voice has not yet been heard. Together we can make it that little bit louder.
–> Think about other ways you can use your own voice and influence. Are you a writer? Write. Are you a talker? Talk. Are you a pray-er? Pray. Are you an event manager or a small group leader, a youth group pastor or a teacher, a member of a philanthropist group or a mothers group? Rally your troops and pool your resources and let’s see what we can do together.
Come on, let’s change the world, shall we?
p.s. This post is part of 31 Days of Women Empowering Women, as well as part of a larger movement of writers all over the world joining in with The Nester in writing everyday for the month of October. See hundreds of incredible #31Days projects here.