In the discussion surrounding privilege I often forget to take stock in my own. That I was born and raised in a family that took education seriously. To have parents who, when I lament on whether or not marriage and/or children will ever happen for me, they remind me that progeny are not the be all, end all of my future. A wedding does not constitute success for them and that happiness and passions are paramount. I forget that I have been remarkably fortunate to have the things I have and a life that will be take me to Europe in a few short days simply for the joy of travel and a thirst for adventure. I was the person who attended her first choice, high priced private university and was sent away with glee by my parents simply because I wanted for nothing more. These are the things I forget when I complain about shortcomings and the ebbs and flows of life.
While attending the Social Good Summit this past weekend in New York City someone asked why I was there. It was my second time at the summit and my fourth year of enjoying United Nations Week. A time when people from around the world come together to discuss making this planet of ours even better. During previous events I have become so wrapped up in all that the week and summit covers from climate change to poverty to clean water and available electricity. So much so that I find myself overwhelmed instead of able to realize my part in the shape of things to come. So when I was asked why I attended this year I knew, for once, just the reason: women and girls.
As a black woman living in America there are no shortage of tales to tell about the ignorance of others and micro-aggressions towards me. That said, to sit in the front rows of an auditorium listening to women emphasize the need to rethink how we engage with communities around the globe in order to count women? Well, let’s just say I was quick to check my own privilege.
I went through and looked at notes I had scribbled down in handwriting that proved that I wanted to make sure I remembered everything hence rampant use of shorthand. A few notes:
- “A girl has the same value as a boy”
- We need to rethink how we engage with countries and how we engage with communities to achieve sustainability that directly impacts young girls
- “Marriage is seen as protecting a child (a girl) but it turns into oppression by forcing children into marriage. These institutions have to change”
- Ignoring and discounting girls as more than just mothers is rooted in tradition. “Traditions are man made so how do we dismantle this man made device”
- By 2030 we need to make measurable progress on raising the value of girls and women
- Tell the stories of women and girls. In storytelling a girl does not exist in a vacuum. If we tell stories of ordinary girls overcoming obstacles this will make others fee the need to work towards action
It was one of those moments of listening where I remembered my blissful ignorance. Of course I am all for advocating for women and girls but what is needed far more than advocacy is ensuring that they are counted. Social Good Summit tends to focus on how how technology and social media are used to make an impact in developing countries and with the Millennium Development Goals. In reality many of the technological analytics and the proof of impact from the NGO world isn’t available for girls or there needs to be an improvement in that arena. Quite simply around the world girls are forgotten and simply used for procreation or as currency. Meanwhile I scroll through Facebook and jump on the “why aren’t there more women on the stage at X tech conference?” bandwagon. While America isn’t perfect when it comes to gender equality we still have the luxury of taking to Twitter or even the ballot box - often without question - to express our displeasure. The women of America are counted.
I wish I could end this on some fabulous suggestion of how to impact the future of women and girls. As a person who craves good narrative and believes that telling the stories of ourselves and others leads to commonality, well, I now have a renewed focus on my own part to play which is quite simply to tell the tales of the women I meet. I return to this space more thoughtful which isn’t very helpful to the masses but, for me, it’s a start and exactly what I needed from the weekend. I simply want to help.
P.P.S. If you missed Emma Watson's speech on HeForShe check that out as well. We need more allies in this world (via Vox)