International Day of the Girl is more than a celebration of girls. It’s a time to understand how girls around the world don’t live life on equal footing.
People often thought my sister and I were twins. We were three years apart but roughly the same size. We were pretty cute buggers, weren’t we?
I don’t remember if we ever discussed our hopes and dreams for the future. I’m sure I talked about wanting to be an actress and a model. Too bad I was vertically challenged (and challenged in many other un-model-like ways). And I remember laying out my plans for the future.
College at 18.
Married at 23.
Kids at 25 (two kids total).
I didn’t think about the details. Like who I would marry or what else I wanted to do with my life. And like many other little girls (I think), I would take my mother’s white half slip, place it on my head, and walk around in front of the mirror dreaming of the day I’d be a beautiful bride with a long train.
And then I’d dream a little further. I’d dream about the Big New Year’s Eve in 1999 that would mark the start of a new millenium. I dreamed that, at 29, we’d have a sitter for the kids and my husband and I would ring in the New Year at a fancy party on a yacht overlooking some city.
Yeah. Sometimes I dream big.
I’m not sorry for the way things turned out. I did go to college (at the tender age of 17), finally found my partner for life and got married at 29, and had my one and only son at age 36. And I didn’t even have a long train for my wedding dress.
In 1999, I spent New Year’s Eve with my family, without a boyfriend, and reported dutifully to work the next day to ensure our computer labs had not imploded because of the Y2K bug. And so did my co-worker, Sean, who eventually became my husband a short 7 months later.
We can plan and hope and even alter our future because we have one thing: CHOICE. We have a choice. We decided where and when and if we want to get married. And believe it or not, in this day and age, women all over the world don’t have this choice. They are forced to marry. Even worse? The same thing is happening for little girls.
Maybe you think that’s an exaggeration. I assure you, it’s not. A few stories from CARE, an organization that is fighting to end child marriage…
- Tume, a 10 year old girl from Ethiopia, was forced to marry a 22-year-old man. She is unable to go to school, almost guaranteeing her and her future children a lifetime of poverty.
- Tino, a 9 year old girl also from Ethiopia, is forced to marry her sister’s husband after she dies during childbirth. Tino’s husband is 26 years older than she is.
- Nana, a 15 year old from the Republic of Georgia, was forced by her parents to marry a 28-year-old man. There was no wedding. The marriage began when her new husband came and took Nana by force from a friend’s house.
This may be a cultural norm in some countries but it is a violation of human rights. None of these girls wants to be married. They want a chance to be educated, They want to attend school and dream of a better and different life.
Thankfully, there are happy endings.
- In India, Mukeshwari’s grandfather promised her in marriage to an older man in a nearby village when she was only 15 years old. She fought back and, with the help of a CARE-trained volunteer, applied community pressure to prevent the marriage from occurring. Mukeshwari is back in school and hopes to become a doctor for her village someday.
If you’re a mother, a daughter, or someone who simply care, join me in recognizing the International Day of the Girl. It’s time to stand up against child marriage and realize that global problems are everyone’s problems.
Learn more about this issue and the difference that CARE is making. And perhaps, lend your help to make a difference as well.