Monday, December 16, 2013

Girls Not Brides

Bill Gates recalls once being invited to speak in Saudi Arabia and finding himself facing a segregated audience. Four-fifths of the listeners were men, on the left. The remaining one-fifth were women, all covered in black cloaks and veils, on the right. A partition separated the two groups. Toward the end, in the question-and-answer session, a member of the audience noted that Saudi Arabia aimed to be one of the Top 10 countries in the world in technology by 2010 and asked if that was realistic. “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,” Gates said, “you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10.” The small group on the right erupted in wild cheering.

Astonishing but true: two thirds of the world's illiterate population are female.  In many countries, secondary education isn't free. In most poor families, if there's a choice between educating a daughter or a son, the boy goes to school and the girl labors in the fields and does housework.  The consensus is, girls leave (to raise their own families) and boys stay (to take care of their parents -- or at the very least, their mothers). Some girls are forced into marriage when they are as young as nine, with the tacit understanding that the husband won't have sex with them until they are of age. Quite often, they have sex with them, anyway. The results are often catastrophic.

Yemen must be hell on earth for little girls.  Then again, I suppose that when you're dirt poor, receiving a hefty pile of money to marry off your prepubescent daughters would be big business.  It's also tradition. 

The idea of putting girls first rankles a lot of people -- especially when it's African and South Asian girls.  The truth is, girls are denigrated all over in the world. Although Chinese girls are making great strides towards education in the cities, school is a rare luxury in rural areas.  And yes -- believe it or not, there's much work to do right here at home.

I loved books when I was a kid. My mother taught me how to read when I was 3 years old -- thank God.  By the time I hit kindergarden, I was on fire.

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