In the wake of Domestic Violence Awareness month in October, I am harshly reminded of the recent Taliban shooting of Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year-old girl in Pakistan whose only crime was to champion education for young girls. To her gallant credit and “sheroism,” she survived a bullet wound to the head and is expected to fully recover, according to her doctors.
While Yousufzai’s wound was an act of violence from an outside group, what happened to this young girl in Pakistan happens to girls and women around the world every day in their homes. In an effort to deny these women rights through aggression and violence, their abusers hope that they will prevent them from feeling empowered and self-actualizing.
Their abusers also know that if they allow women and girls their rights, these girls and women would be able to handle the pressure of success equal to, or better than, them, throwing off the balance that keeps abusers in power. It’s important at this time to acknowledge that not all men are abusers. Some of us really do understand the value of women in our lives as nurturers and bearers of life. They are our sisters, mothers, daughters, wives and aunts. The idea of abusing these important people in our lives is the most spineless act that a man could ever embark on. One way that we as a society are abusive towards women is through the lack of funding for education. While in the U.S.A. most girls have access to education, global access to education for young women can be difficult due to cultural norms or a straightforward lack of funding.
Why is education important for girls? Because if we want them to handle business success they need it as a tool, just like boys have it as a tool. Consider this: According to the UN, women account for two-thirds of the world’s 774 million illiterate people. Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer has stated, “Illiteracy is poverty of the intellect.” So you can see that education can actually help women improve their lives by simply having smaller families, which in turn helps them afford to work outside the home and thereby provide for their children. And on a bigger level, it’s understood that once women get bigger families, all of us end up paying for those large families. Here in the U.S.A. we know that teenage mothers end up not going to school because they have to drop out — about 70% of teenage mothers do so. A bright side of this statistic is that the dropout rates of teen girls is on the decline, due to increased access to contraceptives and better sex education.
So what am I, as a man, doing to reverse this trend in my own life? This question might sound foolish and even demeaning at first glance, but if you are a girl or a woman it actually isn’t. By now, one would think that this question of girls being able to handle success and the steps needed to attain success have been settled, given that we are in the 21st century. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. As I mentioned in my last blog, women are still treated as second-class citizens in the workplace given how they are paid — or I should say, not paid. Globally, girls are faced with the incredible challenge of still having to fight for the tools one needs to participate fully in a global market economy. Tools like education still tend to be a point of contention. Without these tools it’s easy for women and girls to be subjugated by their abusive husbands or relatives because they fear leaving due to poverty and a lack of their own resources to escape.
But I think the real reason is because we, as men, have failed to understand that marginalizing women and keeping them out of our equation of success in a fully functional society is to our own detriment. More educated citizens in our workplaces and communities can only help us grow.
My part as a father has been to give my daughter Lauren the same tasks that I give to my son, Kevin. Kevin started playing piano at the age of seven and so did Lauren. I expect both of them to give me the same results. I expect Kevin to perform very well at school and I expect the same from Lauren.
I have honestly found that with all the tasks that have been equally allocated to my children, both of them have stepped up to the plate and delivered. My daughter can handle the pressure of achievement and failure in the same way that my son can. They are totally equal in their achievements aside from their natural gifts. What does this tell us? I have a simple notion: When you deny your daughter the tools of life, you deny the nation, and indeed the world, the privilege of total success. The economy slumps because half of your populous is illiterate, abused, and underpaid which means the households they belong to are unable to fully function in the marketplace — all because of gender biases that lack sense.
During this critical moment, I would kindly suggest that every man out there give a woman or girl the same opportunity they would give to their fellow man. I have found that women and girls don’t need favors per se, rather simple fairness. For the girls out there, when you get the opportunity, please prove the naysayers wrong!
Next time, I will talk about the power of a successful girl and what she can do to change the world.