The Universal Language of Feminism
From lack of education, to glass ceilings, to stereotyping, gender inequality silently
torments us every day. It plagues everyone. Men feel like their manhood is something to be earned and not acquired at birth; women can’t get certain jobs because of their gender; and society does not give members of the LGBTQ community the basic respect that they, as human beings, deserve. And these are only the problems from first world countries.
UNICEF estimates that at least 200 million girls alive today have undergone some form of female genital mutilation. 1 out of 9 girls in developing countries will get married by the time they are fifteen, and there are still 31 million girls of primary school age that are uneducated (more than half of which will remain uneducated for the rest of their lives). These statistics are appalling and while we hear of people like Malala working for girl’s rights, how long will it take for the world to reach total equality of the sexes?
In her speech to the UN in 2014, Emma Watson estimated that it would take 75 years for women to receive equal pay for equal work and that not all girls from rural Africa would have a secondary education until 2086. I don’t know if her predictions will come true, but I do know that we won’t have gender equality until children are raised to believe in it. If parents teach their kids about feminism, then the ideas of paid parental leave, abortion rights, and LGBTQ rights will be normalized and socially accepted by the time they are adults. If kids grow up as feminists, when the time comes for them to lead, they will do so as advocates for 100% of the world’s population.
For most of my life, I went to an all girls school. There, teachers raised us as girls who can do anything, not as girls whose options and abilities are held back by men and their actions.
Because of this, apart from the occasional catcall on the street or creep on the subway, I have never truly faced gender inequality. I have never seen experienced gender inequality and while I know this revelation may undermine my credibility for some audiences, I believe that my inexperience of gender inequality actually strengthens my reasons to fight for it.
So far, my life has been a feminist utopia and I want to help turn the rest of the world into this gender equality paradise I know is reachable. I have seen what gender equality looks like and I embarked on my journey to spread it when I was 14. After watching Emma Watson’s UN speech, I felt inspired to start a feminist club at my all girls middle school. I did not know whether I would impact anyone, but at least I wasn’t standing around and waiting for gender equality to reach itself. The club took off really well and I even managed to hold an all middle school event where girls from grades 5-8 worked together to examine feminist and normal fairytales’ influence on society. The club’s second year was less steady. Girls would only show up for lack of anything else to do and would not take the projects seriously. My classmates started to open their own clubs as well so times to hold feminism meetings got constrained. The object of my pride began to deteriorate and I needed to find some other way to outlet my inner activist.
I started KidForShe in 2016. It is a website with powerpoints young people can use to start their own feminism clubs at their schools. So far, there are 3 KidsForShe clubs in Uganda and in a refugee camp in Sudan, started by a woman I admire more and more every day, Phionah Sserwanja. I’ve also spoken to other organizations around the U.S. to spread these clubs. My connections through KidsForShe opened my eyes to a completely different feminism from what I had learned in my liberal first world bubble of Manhattan. 10 of the girls in the Ugandan
KidsForShe clubs are refugees from South Sudan. Some of the club members have been victims of sexual harassment or FGM, and 10% of them were disowned by their fathers because of their gender. The most shocking thing I found out is that none of them had any idea what feminism and gender equality was before they were introduced to KidsForShe.
I did not need to cross an ocean in order to learn about how little feminism has spread. While talking to an organization in the Bronx, I learned that young Latinas who come from the same country as me, live in a completely different New York City. Their homes are dominated by their fathers, men who left Mexico for the best of their families. They live in a strict patriarchy where they have to cook meals and set the table while their brothers sit around playing video games. These girls do not know of women like Margaret Thatcher or Marie Curie and the female role models they have teach them to aspire to more traditional gender roles.
The club in Uganda and my conversations with fellow Latinas revolutionized my limited take on feminism. I realized that the presentations I had about women’s importance in the workplace failed to highlight the value of a woman’s work in the home. My presentations were about body image and racial gender inequalities-issues that girls in Uganda did not face. From then on, I learned that westerners are privileged to be able to complain about things like glass ceilings and stereotypes.
Feminism is a gift that we need to share with the rest of the world in the same way that we are trying end of poverty. Those of us lucky enough to be able to fight for equal pay or even more superficial movements like “Free the Nipple” should also work for people who were not allocated this privilege. We need to spread the message of gender equality to the four corners of the earth so that everyone can bring their own gender equality issues to the table. Simply
spreading the message of feminism and giving people a glimpse of worlds like my middle school can be enough to set off a movement in a completely different continent.
The fight for gender equality is like the latin alphabet. On the surface, it it uses the same letters, but if you dig deeper and travel further you will find that it is manipulated in completely different ways. It is our job to turn the alphabet of feminism into a common language that we can all use and fight for together.
http://en.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/gem-report/files/girls-factsheet-en.pdf https://www.icrw.org/child-marriage-facts-and-figures/ https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/female-genital-mutilation-and-cutting/# www.kidsforshe.org