Celebrate Girls - Today and Everyday

Posted on October 22, 2014

Celebrate Girls - Today and Everyday

by Savannah Lynn Johnson

On October 11th, International Day of the Girls is observed around the world. It is a day to recognize girls' rights and the unique barriers girls face around the globe. The theme for 2014 is Empowering Adolescent Girls  by Ending the Cycle of Violence. As a youth advocate for the Global Campaign for Education — US Chapter, I applied for a grant to coordinate a campaign at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. 

"Why did you want to bring International Day of the Girl to Belmont?"  Throughout the process of planning and coordinating this event, I was asked this question. There are a lot of answers, but this is the best one I have come up with—Bringing this campaign to my university had nothing to do with my wants. It had everything to do with the need for these conversations to take place. We need to talk about girls' rights. We need to observe the unique barriers girls face around the world. We need to talk about who we are as young women and where we are headed. Doors opened that gave me the resources and connections to plan this event, but this event was not about me or my passions. It was about the greater story that is unfolding around the world for young women and for girls.

Belmont's first annual International Day of the Girl campaign started on the morning of Monday, October 6th with Selamawit Adugna Bekele  addressing how education is a tool to break the cycle of violence against women. Her story is powerful as she is able to explain how education gave her a voice as a young Ethiopian woman. After persevering through her education with support from her family, she has a masters in Gender Studies from Addis Ababa University and plans to continue her advocacy and international development work.  She holds various  positions in leadership councils for young African women and currently works as an ambassador for A World at School. A World At School is currently working to make education the top priority in the the UN's Post 2015 Agenda to eradicate poverty. Sign the petition here

To end the first day of the campaign, Belmont hosted a screening of Half the Sky with a discussion lead by Joan Mussa of World Vision. Mussa is a Senior Vice President at World Vision. Her leadership surrounds  donor engagement, advocacy, and communications. She has a rich Half the Sky Panel Discussionhistory of work with media and advocacy, starting on the ground during the Ethiopian food crisis in the 1980s. She brought her own expertise as a leader in the world of international development and called the audience to action to help in the fight to end poverty and hunger. 

On the evening Tuesday October 7th, the focus shifted from international to local. By local, I mean the immediate Belmont community. Neely Dining Hall filled with students to hear the Empowering the Belmont Woman panel discussion. Six young women who are students at Belmont vulnerably shared their own stories. The conversation addressed how background, spirituality, sexuality, body image, and race all inform our identifications as young women. From menstrual cycles, to eating disorders, to being a female athlete, to the stereotyping of muslim women, to restricted marriage rights, the conversation unleashed a storm of issues that young women face on our campus. These are not pretty topics. Yet, as I sat in the audience amongst my peers and faculty, I watched a beautiful and honest conversation unfold. I was in awe of the way in which the girls were distinctly different, but in many ways the same. The thread of hope and desire to be understood was sewn through every story that was shared--and I strongly believe it is sewn through us all. 

The event came full circle on Wednesday October 8th with a Girls' Fair. Various Nashville community organizations came to Belmont to talk about the young women they serve in the Nashville community in hopes of connecting with volunteers from Belmont. In addition, there was a fundraiser for More Than Me Academy, an all girls school in the West Point Slum of Liberia. More Than Me is providing education, healthcare, and social services to girls who live in this community. Unfortunately, programs have been shut down because of the Ebola crisis. The students and their families are deeply effected by the outbreak, and if you would like to donate to their relief efforts, click 

here.

On October 10th (the Day before International Day of the Girl), Malala Yousafsai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the youngest recipient ever of this award. What a victory for her. What a victory for girls. What a victory against violence, against terrorism. Her single life is disrupting patterns of violence against women. Her life is spilling light into a world of darkness. Her life is a seed of hope.  As we wait for the  219 missing girls in Nigeria to be released, there is hope.  As over 70% of girls in Ethiopia still face female genital mutilation, there is hope. As a girl is raped somewhere in the United States every two minutes, there is hope. As sexual violence against young women is rampant on college campuses worldwide, there is hope.  As 1 in 3 women continue to face violence at some point in their lifetime, there is hope. There is hope because girls are rising. There is momentum building around empowerment and equality.  We will see a different world when the potential of the girl child is unleashed. 

Pictures by Shannon McLaughlin

 



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