By Jennie M. Xue
October 13 2015,
In 2011, the UN declared Oct. 11 as International Day of the Girl Child. Why do we need to pay attention to girl children? What can we do to ensure better lives for girls and women now and in the future?
The UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) program began in 2000, thus girl babies who were born that year will turn 15 this year. The world expects girls in countries that adopted the MDGs to grow healthier, more secure, more equal alongside boy children and lead more meaningful lives than before.
However, the male culture of sexualizing underage girls still occurs worldwide. Beauty is clearly the most important commodity that makes the world go round. Capitalism relies heavily on sexualized girl images to make money. It’s as if a woman’s value depends on how good she looks, her age and her ability to bear children.
In her book, The Beauty Myth, American feminist Naomi Wolf wrote, “There is no legitimate historical or biological justification for the beauty myth; what it is doing to women today is a result of nothing more exalted than the need of today’s power structure, economy and culture to mount a counteroffensive against women.”
First things first, a girl must be protected from bodily harm against her wishes. She must be able to enjoy her body in the most natural form until reaching adulthood. It’s her basic human right.
Among other things, this means a girl can’t be forced to have sex against her wishes, regardless of the religious and cultural practices of underage brides. If she is forced into marriage against her wishes, she must be provided with the legal means and moral, emotional and psychological support to get a legal annulment or a divorce immediately. Nujood Ali, a 10-year-old Yemeni girl, received support from a lawyer to divorce her much older husband.
The Indonesian Health Ministry banned female genital mutilation (FGM) in 2006, but was challenged by a fatwa permitting FGM, issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in 2008.
In 2010, the ministry overturned its own ban, but later withdrew it, so the ban still stands. However, Muslim Indonesian girls are still experiencing FGM because of cultural and religious practices as cited by Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, a noted advocate for women’s rights.
Second, all girls must receive good health care, including their special conditions pertaining to being females and reproductive organs. The MDG’s universal goal is reducing maternal mortality and ensuring universal access to reproductive health by the end of this year — which Indonesia has failed to achieve so far regarding its own target. Worldwide, 99 percent of 536,000 maternal deaths occur each year in developing countries, where child bride practices are rampant.
Third, all girls must be able to receive education from preschool to higher levels. While Indonesian law doesn’t restrict girls from receiving education up to doctorate and post-doctorate levels, some families still restrict their daughters from pursuing higher education, believing that clichéd notion of “a woman’s place is in the home”.
Fourth, girls should be taught to practice self-esteem and about external daily rebellion. There is an old adage of “When you educate a boy, you educate an individual. When you educate a girl, you educate the whole nation.”
American feminist Gloria Steinem in Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem mentioned that more experts, including economists, were now using the term “self-esteem” when discussing “soft” factors in development, such as “national inferiority complex”, “national will”, “basic worldview”, “equality” and “belief in reward for work”.
Thus, girls must be aware of their value to society. When a girl understands her rights, responsibilities and individual strengths and uniqueness, she can better protect herself and her family and be a productive member of society. This way, she can continue spreading inspiration and motivation to the whole world without having to discount and reduce her self-worth.
The writer is an award-winning author and columnist based in northern California.