Today was International Day of the Girl (aka BEST DAY EVER)
The TGC girls were invited to celebrate the day at the local Women’s Resource Center. We canceled class for them this morning so they could attend the festivities. I, along with one of the house moms, Mum Pove, chaperoned the 16 girls across town. The welcoming committee greeted us at the gates with cheerful smiles, blasting music, and books for them to take home. Watching them struggle to dance to the traditional Khmer party music while holding armful of books was the highlight of my day.
The program started out with explaining the purpose of “a day to celebrate women”. One of our 12th grade students volunteered to answer about what the day meant to her. And in front of 70 other children from the community, she answered flawlessly. To her, International Day of the Girl is a day not only celebrate girls, but to empower them to use their voices in societies like this one, who often try to keep them quiet, and to educate them of the rights they were born with as human beings. We then transitioned to female health, which is generally a taboo among Cambodians. The kids split into small groups as to maintain a safe space for them to share and ask questions openly. The morning culminated with each girl receiving their own reusable pad kits. The girls at TGC often struggle academically during their periods, as their habits are fairly old-fashioned. Tampons are not used by most Cambodians, so they use pads which are uncomfortable and unreliable. Words can’t describe the elatedness on the faces of these kids when they received their kits (so refer to pictures @ bottom). I’m Jewish, but I would like to think this is what Christmas morning feels like.
I left the program today feeling a sort of high, I couldn’t stop smiling. But my only criticism of the day was that the boys were not included. The only way for real change to occur is to get everyone on board with the same mission. We need boys to join the conversation. We need boys help to change the world for girls. I had a lesson planned for my afternoon class, but scrapped it the second I walked into the classroom. I wasn’t ready to stop talking about this. So for the next 50 minutes, I included the boys. I had the girls share their experiences from the morning with their male counterparts in the class. We talked about everything from female empowerment to gender equality to periods. It was encouraging, eye-opening, awkward, and funny. But most of all it was necessary. We finished class with some Beyoncé, obviously.
All day, I couldn’t help but wonder why this was the first time I’ve recognized this day. As a well-educated, driven, and self-proclaimed “successful” young woman, why have I never taken a day to celebrate my accomplishments in such a context? Why are we only celebrating the movement toward equality in societies where oppression of women is so overt?
We need to wake up. Gender inequality doesn’t only persist in developing countries. But they are certainly leading the way in talking about it. If gender inequality ceases to be a topic of conversation in our lives at home, we will regress. Here’s a reality check: we are regressing. Gender inequality is becoming more overt everyday in America. Don’t stop talking. Don’t stop celebrating.
I’d like to take a moment to celebrate some badass women in my life:
- My mom will always be #1 on this list. She has single-handedly built an empire around helping others, creating community, and consciously sustaining our planet. So many people’s lives are richer because of you.
(1B: Dad- you’re an honorary badass woman for raising three badass women. And for putting up with 4)
- My rad sisters: Emma and Zoe. Thanks for teaching me skills to fight. It’s more important now than ever before. I owe ya one. Keep on rockin’
- My protest pals: Anna, Jax, Abby, Bri, and Jabo. If I’m gonna have to march for change, I’m glad it’s by your sides. Stay woke, girls!!
- The amazing staff behind the Women’s Resource Center in Siem Reap. Nothing says badass more than a female-only staff passionately advocating for women in a developing country every day. I have so much admiration for these 12 women.
- My girl students at TGC: who challenge societal norms everyday by walking through the gates of a school. For being brave enough to choose school, and to fight to find their voices in this society. You girls inspire me and so many others.
I am so grateful to have spent my first International Day of the Girl in Siem Reap with some true rad feminists. Mark your calendars for next year- Oct 11, 2018, party at my place. But I’ll also be celebrating every other day of the year. You should too.