I’ve traveled all around the world and seen the ways that girls are raised, the challenges they face, and the expectations that are placed upon them. Discussing worldview is always a tricky topic. By no means does the “west” own the truth. And we always must be careful about telling someone else they are wrong. But more than pointing fingers, I’ve learned that the most important thing is offering solutions.
This was never more clear than one of the first times I traveled to India and visited rural, impoverished communities.
It didn’t take long to notice that most of these poor families had MANY children. I’m talking at least six children or more! It would have been easy to quickly proclaim these families as ignorant. Maybe even irresponsible. But then I started to understand that there were two main reasons this dynamic was tolerated, and even encouraged.
First, with many children the parents had more of safety net as they aged. The odds that at least one of their children would be able to take care of the parents in the latter years of life increased. Having many children was a sort of life insurance policy. This motive certainly couldn’t be admonished.
But then I saw a dynamic that was specific to the girls in the family.
And it broke my heart.
If for some reason the family fell into debt, or suffered a setback that could greatly impact the families wellbeing, you could sell or marry off a girl. The girls were a liquid asset. You had the ability to birth a commodity.
I then realized that the problems of the girl child, here in India, or anywhere they are exploited, was not an issue of convincing people to change their minds. Of course, that is the ultimate goal. But in order for all girls to have a chance in this world, to not face painful levels of discrimination, to not be considered an item to be sold, to be seen as equal, we have to change systems.
Judging these families for the decisions that have been cast as normative in their culture, is not the answer. These are people who are trying to survive in challenging situations according to the means they’ve been taught to use.
And this seems to be the case in most places where girls are subjugated to a painful life. Yes, there are menacing people who seek to manipulate and exploit. They should be stopped. But the systems that prop up these societal injustices, functioning much like a value chain of a business, must be changed.
Food for the Hungry is ever mindful of the wellbeing and opportunities for the girl child. As a father of two daughters and a grandfather to three granddaughters, I see my family in each vulnerable girl I meet. No girl should be forced into marriage as a child. No girl should be made to do things that strip her of dignity or be blocked from an opportunity because she is female.
The Day of the Girl Child is about celebrating the untapped potential of girls around the world. And about boldly demanding systemic changes so that girls have a better and safer future to look forward to. Promoting a world where girls have every opportunity, and the unequivocal human right, to thrive.