By Anika M
The first ever International Day of the Girl has come and gone, and I honestly could not have been more ecstatic with all the action I’ve seen. Various friends sent me messages, bringing my attention to major figures and organizations that have been covering the event, including initiatives started by Hillary Clinton and an editorial by one of my favorite journalists, Nicholas Kristof. Over 100 Proclamations were sought across the country, and events were held all across the globe. And as devastating as the attack on brave Malala Yousafzai’s life was (continued hopes for her speedy recovery), we cannot ignore the terrible irony of its relevance—her story, if nothing else, tells us exactly why we need to focus on girls.
But now that the frenzy has died down, I am here, a week later, to remind you that the work is far from over. Gender discrimination doesn’t take coffee breaks. I, personally, am realizing this in new ways as a volunteer with a community organization in Nicaragua. Before coming to Nicaragua, which is the poorest country in Latin America, I have been warned by many Latin Americans about Nicaraguan machismo—excessive masculine pride that often results in misogynistic treatment of women. But hearing about it is not at all the same as experiencing it.
What I notice most here, day in and day out, are the social forces to limit girls to their reproductive capabilities. Never have been more aware of my femaleness than walking to and from work. In fact, I nearly had a heart attack yesterday evening after being honked at extremely loudly, only to be rewarded by some dude’s gross, leering face. This behavior is normal for Nicaraguan girls pretty much when they start puberty. So asthese girls enter their adolescence, their “most important role” is probably already ingrained in them, which explains why half of Nicaraguan girls give birth before the age of 20. Or why my host mother’s 18-year-old niece is experiencing her second pregnancy while attempting to complete her 1st year of high school for the third time. My internship supervisor tells me that many Nicaraguan women and girls are simply not aware of other options other than selflessly raising children and depending on their men (if they stick around, that is). And if they stray from their expectations, women face physical repercussions to remind them of their submissive role; domestic violence is so common here that at least 60 percent of women have been physically abused at least once.
So, Day of the Girl has come and gone, but the issues aren’t going anywhere any time soon. And we should keep learning about them. I am utterly grateful for the experiences I’m having in Nicaragua, because I get to learn about gender oppression in a specific area in ways I’ve never done before. But as Eliana Stanislawski has aptly said, it’s not enough to just learn about the problem: “there has to be value in that knowledge that incites action.” For this reason, I am planning a workshop for adolescent girls in my current community to think critically about the role that they have been expected to fulfill and how their society creates that role—a space that many of these girls have never been offered before. While it may not be much, I hope it’s a seed that can sprout into enduring action.
Now it’s your turn! What issues have you been continuing to work on today?