More than 2 years have passed since Malala Yousafzai, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, made international headlines because of an attack against her, her steadfast commitment to herself, her education and belief in the intrinsic value of all girls and women to the greater society. In July, we celebrate Malala day. And in 2012, the UN acknowledged October 11 as the International Day of the Girl – a day where we, as a global society do something very similar. We take a moment to acknowledge the value and contributions of women everywhere. We acknowledge the potential of every girl. We acknowledge that it is our OBLIGATION to ensure that every girl is safe and has access to education.
This year for International Day of the Girl, the focus is on Ending the Cycle of Violence. In an era where our newsfeeds are clogged with horrific cases of abuse and sexual assault against girls and women, it is more critical than ever, that we pay attention to the plight of girls everywhere.
Stories about communities protecting teen athlete perpetrators of rape, universities failing to address or even acknowledge campus rape, and the NFL covering up known cases of domestic violence all share a common thread: they are stories where everyone but the girl are being protected. Why did everyone look the other way when it came to hearing the voices of these girls and women? Whose job is it, anyway, to step up and look out for our girls?
It’s the responsibility of every single one of us. How are we allowing our girls to move around in the world without a sense of regard for her safety, well- being and human rights? What should we be doing, as individuals and as a larger society?
-In the United States, 83 per cent of girls aged 12 to 16 have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools – See more here.
-In the United States, intimate partner violence accounts for between 40 and 70 per cent of female murder victims – See more here.
-Boys who witness their fathers’ violence are 10 times more likely to engage in spouse abuse in later adulthood than boys from non-violent homes. (Family Violence Interventions for the Justice System, 1993)
First of all, we can stop looking the other way. We need to recognize that these facts and figures are real. Next we can educate ourselves on signs of abuse. Clearly, not everyone is responding appropriately when girls and women disclose that they are experiencing violence or abuse. We also need safe places for girls to share what is happening to them.
Girls Inc. of Long Island provides such an environment. We create a safe haven for girls to explore, grow and express their curiosity without judgment or censure. One group of our girls came together last week in honor of International Day of the Girl to identify acts of violence against women in their own communities and discussed how they can use their own power to “never become another statistic.” They used art and discussion to dive deep into these topics. They left feeling strong, smart and bold about who they are in the world and the respect they deserve.
The girls-only environment creates a safe, nurturing space for girls to build real relationships with mentors who believe in their potential; appropriate referrals are identified, and girls have someone in their corner as they navigate the system and strive towards balance as they address these critical issues while continuing to visualize a positive, healthy future. We need to give these girls HOPE. We need to give them SAFETY. We need to give them the respect and attention they need so that we can take steps towards Ending the Cycle of Violence.
-Neela M. Lockel