Today is International Women’s Day, a holiday that goes back to 1910 when a German woman named Clara Zetkin proposed that every country devote a day to the needs and political demands for women. Call me a pessimist, but I’m not in a celebratory mood today and I don’t want to shout “Happy International Women’s Day!” on Twitter or Facebook because the work is not over in any country. The past few weeks of Rush Limbaugh’s slut-shaming of women, transvaginal ultrasounds and conservative Republican attacks on birth control are real reminders that women’s needs and rights are under attack. It also underscores the importance of honoring today as a day to remind the world of women’s political demands. In the words of my feminist, Kurdish friend who so eloquently wrote today, “When all inequalities between sexes vanishes on earth, when women have an equal say in every stage of life; that day we can celebrate women’s day and toss for a merry future! BUT, alas! we are not there yet!”
International Women’s Day focuses on women as its subjects, but we often fail to include girls in our celebrations and analyses of this “holiday.” It’s short-sighted and foolish to ignore the potential of girls, who will one day be young women like myself and hopefully involved in feminist movements as leaders, thinkers and activists.
I’ve been thinking about the question, “How can we, as a culture and as members of the global community, involve, educate and inspire girls in a positive way?” And I’ve decided that the best way to involve girls is to ask them for their thoughts and opinions and value what they say instead of judging how they look or act or what they wear. This gives girls permission to be outspoken and unapologetic about their intellect and to feel as if their opinion and their voice matters.
It’s not enough to devote time, energy and resources into educating girls with academic skills if we also don’t educate them about loving their bodies and equip them with scientifically based, comprehensive sex education. As adults, it’s our responsibility to lead by example and show girls how to love and appreciate our bodies and our diverse beauty. Easier said than done, I know. But if we don’t love ourselves and our bodies, we won’t stop tearing down other women as enemies and we won’t see them as full, equal partners in the struggle for equality. We need to educate girls to not divide themselves from one another, because then we are conquered and divided as a sex. Nurturing girls’ voices and educating them beyond textbook smarts will inspire them to value and love their mind, intellect, body and other girls and women.
I realize that these answers sound simplistic. But they are extremely hard to implement when so much of our patriarchal culture and global community pays lip service to gender equity and doesn’t do the hard work of actually making it happen, no matter how many treaties are signed or conferences are held. That’s why I believe that these simple truths are so personal, radical, revolutionary and life changing for a girl. By nurturing her voice, mind and love for herself and others, a girl who grows up to be a woman makes her needs and demands known everyday, not just on International Women’s Day. She is healthier, happier and smarter. And that is work I want to do with passion and celebrate.