By Katie Swift, ACT:S National Team
Let’s be real: women are not seen as equals in our world. Not even in the developed world, where on the surface, women may appear to be equal. The glass ceiling has not been shattered, traditional gender roles are still expected, and the sex industry, which is built around the idea of objectifying women, is alive and well. Worldwide, women face some serious challenges.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my fellow woman-kind all over the world and the struggles they face. I’ve often seen it as an “us and them” kind of thing—women like me are the lucky ones, the ones who have jobs, who receive healthcare, and who have loving relationships. The other women whose stories you read about on our blog and whose faces you see in documentaries—they are separate from us.
But recently, as cheesy as it sounds, I’ve started to see them as my sisters.
One evening a few weeks ago, I went on a run in my neighborhood. I was right across the street from my house, waiting for traffic to die down so I could cross, and over my music, I heard some yelling. I looked up to see a man, leaning really far out of his car window (a minivan, mind you), pointing and shouting at me. For a second I thought maybe I knew him and he was just trying to get my attention. It didn’t take me long to realize I was wrong—he was making kiss-y faces at me and shouting rude things until he turned a corner and was out of sight.
I’ve been whistled at before (which is annoying), but this instance was far more intentional and suggestive, and it infuriated me. I kept thinking “What nerve!” “How does he think he has the right to do that?” I felt degraded and objectified.
Somewhere in the midst of my ranting and raving, I realized that he felt like he had the right to do that simply because I’m a woman. And although my experience was incredibly mild in the grand scheme of things, it was a sign to me that all is not well—something has to change. I realized, too, that I should be just as much of a part of this fight as women on the other side of the world.
Women are so often seen as a body, or a housekeeper, or a child-rearer without being seen as someone who has worth, who has promise, who could be a leader, who has the ability to make this world a better place – someone who deserves respect. Women can experience oppression anywhere—whether it’s in a brothel in India or on a running trail in Seattle. We have to see ourselves as global sisters, in this together—not as separate people with separate struggles.
One giant step forward can be made with education. When we educate girls, we raise their self-worth and their ability to contribute to society. Girls become empowered to dream, equipped to have jobs and take care of their families, and inspired to make their children’s education a priority. As girls become more educated and see all of their options, they won’t have to fall back on the men in their lives for support, they won’t have to marry at a young age with no other options, and they won’t have to sell their bodies to help their families pay off their debts. They will have options and opportunities, and eventually, respect from those who can’t help but see their worth.
So to me, Girls + Education = Respect.
This week ACT:S is joining with 10×10 to create awareness around the incredible change can be made when girls have access to education. Let’s start a global conversation highlighting all the awesome things that can happen when girls are educated. What does Girls +Education equal to you? Snap a photo and show us what you think!