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The Girl Effect – part III

Friday, November 19, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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8th Grader, Lal district, Afghanistan: I met her in a tent classroom, she told me she will be a teacher one day

This is the third in a series of posts I’ve written about The Girl Effect as part of a fabulous blog campaign initiated by the delightful Tara Sophia Mohr and participated in by more than 40 writers.

The first post was about my personal experience of The Girl Effect, through my friend Faezeh.

The second explored a question about how The Girl Effect took into account factors like cultural values.

Today I wanted to talk more about the complexity that lies within the beautifully simple motto of The Girl Effect, i.e. that girls have the potential to end poverty for themselves and the world.

It’s complex because:

a girl’s ability to get an education relies on much more than simply having the money for school fees

Some of the things that need to be in place are big, infrastructure things like a functioning education system, a comprehensive curriculum, good teachers and a school within reasonable distance from the girl’s home.

Some are environmental, like being safe enough to walk to school without fear of attack.

Many of these things are well beyond the reach of a micro-finance project and I really appreciated the perspective that Matthew Stillman brought to the Girl Effect blog campaign.

I love the Girl Effect for a number of reasons. The Girl Effect should continue doing its good and valuable work and making its important case. It will make a difference for some women. Maybe for even a lot of women. But the Girl Effect will not end poverty. It will not end poverty and cannot end poverty systemically because it does address the root cause of poverty. Lack of access and control of resources.

When I left Afghanistan and came back to New Zealand I was convinced, as Matthew is, that poverty needed to be addressed at it’s root:

a widespread inequality in the distribution of access to and control over resources

I came home and worked with Oxfam on advocacy campaigns specifically targeted at those systematic inequalities. Oxfam works hard to bring the perspective of developing countries and communities to the table when the world is gathering to make decisions about things like trade rules, tax laws, land reform and climate change. The decisions that can either sustain existing inequalities or, if we choose to act now, can begin to create a different kind of world, a fairer world in which everyone actually has a chance at a decent life.

So I agree with Matthew Stillman,

for a girl anywhere to have a fair chance, we need a fairer world for everyone.

And here’s the thing: these two approaches (the big picture structural changes and the local level initiatives to change the life of individual girls) are dependent on each other if either is to achieve long term positive change for the girls and their communities.

Because we need more girls from developing countries to grow up to be women who have their say at those international negotiating tables.

actually, we need those girls to start having their say now.

One thing I’ve seen over and over again in my work is that new voices at the table can help bring new solutions to age-old problems. Personally, I prefer not to romanticise women and girls. I don’t believe that women are inherently more peaceable or generous than men. But what I have seen is that women and girls experience life differently to men, as a rule, and from their different perspective they can sometimes see new ways of doing things.

So by supporting girls to get the education and health care they need, we can create new change-makers who are going to be at the heart of helping us change the much bigger picture. But we also need to start to change the bigger picture so that all girls, everywhere, can get what they need.

we can do both.

We can empower individual girls AND change the system. We can change our own buying and consumption patterns AND support developing communities to provide schools for their girls. We can donate to microfinancing projects that focus on young women AND lobby our governments to offer a fair deal to developing countries at global trade and climate change talks.

Stop for a minute. Notice, how do you feel as you read this?

Sad? Scared? Overwhelmed? Guilty? Not enough? Heart-broken? Not heart-broken enough?

Whatever you feel, I invite you to allow yourself to feel it. If you feel sad, let yourself feel sad. Because by allowing ourselves to feel what we feel, and acting from that place of openness and connectedness,

we begin to change not only the external conditions that allow global injustice to continue but, even more powerfully, we begin to change the internal conditions of our hearts.

And that, my friend, is the topic of my next The Girl Effect post, coming soon…

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3 Responses to "The Girl Effect – part III"

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. As always, you are full of wisdom.

    The other added complication I have seen (and I know you have seen as well) is age old cultural systems so imbedded in people’s psyche that they just don’t know how to change their paradigms.

    In India, where we visited the Musahar people (the lowest sect of the Dalits – the untouchables), the children had access to a school, but we could only find one child in the whole area who was taking advantage of the opportunity and going to school. It was so imbedded into their psyches that they were worthless and that nothing would improve their lives (but that they had to wait for the next life to hopefully be born into a hight status), that they couldn’t see the point of education for their kids.

  2. Laura says:

    So true and well written marianne, and yes, it all feels overwhelming at times… hmmm

  3. Rupa says:

    I loved this, Marianne.

    And I love your suggestion that “the internal condition of our hearts” is integral to changing the world’s external condition.

    Thank you for your service. Can’t wait to hear more.

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