Foundations of Change: Changing the World through Empowered Women and Education
By Hanna Batlan, School Girls Unite
As someone who has gone to a private school in an urban city, and to public school in a very suburban district, you might say I have had a very diverse education, reaching all over the spectrum of the American educational system. I have lived 73 percent of my life in schools, learning how to write well developed thoughts, find the cosine of radio waves, and how our bodies reproduce the tiny cells that make us who we are. As a high school student, the future is always in the front of my mind, as good grades, extracurriculars, and everything else that gets you into college is a lot of the time a priority above almost everything else. I can happily say that most of my life is about education. I can't imagine life without a passion to absorb the world we all live in, and the hunger to gain the knowledge to impact it in our own unique way. So it makes me irate to see that girls around the world do not have the same rights and opportunities to gain these necessary life skills and learn how to change the world themselves.
This is why Bintou Soumaoro's leadership with Les Filles Unies Pour l'Education is so important. As a young woman in her 20s, Bintou has already done extraordinary volunteer work for girls in Mali. Just last week, on October 2nd, she spoke as a plenary speaker on education at the One Young World Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. In her speech to the summit, Bintou discusses the amazing hardships young girls in Mali face and their unwavering perseverance to receive an education, despite crippling gender roles, child marriage, and sexual harassment in the culture. Lack of finance from the government in Mali results in little classroom materials and few teachers, which leads to statistics such as only 2 in 100 women in Mali attend university, and that out of the half of the population that are women, only 34 percent are literate. Bintou's reference to education as an "international disaster" is not an exaggeration, as the world's lack of education should be treated with as much intensity and focus as a devastating flood, damaging nuclear spill, or dilapidating war. I hope you will watch her speech (44 minutes into the opening plenary session).
The newly established U.N. International Day of the Girl's purpose is to recognize the power of a universal connection of women, young and old, to change the world for the better. On this day we recognize the faults in our society, but don't just let them sit there for someone else to deal with. We take charge, leading the changes needed at the present. Our world doesn't need one large solution, but an army of millions of girls, unified to create small changes in their small communities, to impact a larger world. We need many women like Bintou to lead activism in their communities, to speak for those who have not yet found their voice, and educate the ignorant on the value of education.
I cannot imagine my life without the power of education, without the feeling of strength and courage that comes from learning about the world and all the people in it. I hope that education will be the weapon to bring down all other forms of destruction and negativity that inhibits our world, and that the young women of my generation will be the ones to make it. We have strength in both quantity and quality, as in communities worldwide there are inspirational leaders like Bintou, taking control to create real change in the places that need it. I might have a very idealistic view about changing the world, but isn't that better than thinking that society is doomed and unchangeable? We have a foundation of powerful women for change, now it is time to act.
Hanna Batlan is a sophomore at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda Maryland, who hopes to study political science and international relations in the future.