By Ava McElhone Yates
I’ve been to New York plenty of times, but I never would have thought that I’d be
going there for an international meeting at the Turkish Consulate in the United
Nations Plaza. In fact, the idea was so extraordinary for my thirteen–year-old self
that I rushed to apply as fast as I could in fear of letting the opportunity slip into the
hands of someone else. I was determined to go and I did.
I first heard of this event and the Day of the Girl in an email reading: URGENT,
Special Opportunity. It was from New Moon Girls Magazine asking a girl to
represent them at a kickoff event in New York City two days later celebrating the
first annual Day of the Girl Child.
The kickoff breakfast was at eight o’clock and that meant dragging myself out of bed
when I could still see the stars in order to make the drive from Massachusetts to the
city. I had no idea what to expect. The Day of the Girl sounded like it fit exactly
within my interests. It combined my passion for girls’ rights and feminism with my
enthusiasm for meeting new people and trying new things. I was more than excited
and positive it would be a fantastic experience, yet nothing quite prepared me for
what happened that morning.
For the first time I saw important adult leaders talk about what I truly believed in.
The Turkish ambassador to the United Nations led the meeting and introduced the
individuals at the long table we sat at as the ambassadors from Canada, Somalia, and
New Zealand. The world was represented together with a group of enthusiastic and
determined individuals mere feet away from me. I watched people get up and speak
one after another. They spoke about the issues facing girls today around the world
including violence, forced marriage, and lack of education. I listened to women talk
about their organizations, their dreams, and their aspirations. But most of all I heard
them talk about girls. Girls like me around the world. At one point my group from
the magazine was asked to stand. Flustered and listening to the applause around me
as I stood next to my seat, I was the inspiration to those adults just as they were to
me. That concept was new and slightly strange. But I think it gave me a connection
to this day no one else could have quite achieved. How often do you see people
applauding for someone just because they’re a girl?
Many people can get up and say that ‘x’ taught them “they can produce change”. It
is a phrase you hear all the time. It seems as if whenever anyone does something
inspiring they say they can help change the way things are being done. But for me
the Day of the Girl takes it a step further. I learned I am an integral part in making
change. I can’t stop now and I can’t stop soon, because girls still have a long way to
go. But every once in a while I hear someone mention this United Nations’ holiday
and I feel proud to be a girl and proud to be in a world with people who take me, and
others like me, seriously.
I think many people can be ignorant to the continued sexism and discrimination
girls and face. Women as a group have advanced drastically in the past few decades
and some people may see that as succeeding a goal, although shouldn’t that just
be a step to achieving something greater? It is this hidden sexism that exists daily
which is harmful. Particularly, I think, to girls. If a girl grows up not believing she is
important, it is incredibly difficult to change that later on in her life.
Since that breakfast the Day of the Girl has been an integral part of the way I think
about things. When I look at the news I automatically go to the pieces on feminism,
women, and gender oppression. Some of those articles make me proud to be a
girl and some of them make me angry. But at least I know there are strong, clever,
powerful, and inspired people who are angry at those articles, too.