Malala Day: Make It Your Business

by Tessie San Martin

At the beginning of July, Always (a Procter & Gamble company) put out a new commercial “Always #LikeAGirl” that quickly went viral.

Watch it if you haven't. The message behind the video was brilliantly conveyed: When you use the phrase "like a girl," it is usually – if not always – in a derogatory way. Think about it. When have any of us said, "You hit like a girl" or "You run like a girl" as a compliment? This is not just hugely disempowering to girls but also diminishes all of us. Martin Luther King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The ad highlights how even "enlightened" communities have conspired in a myriad of subtle (and unsubtle) ways to adversely affect how we think about girls, their rights, and their potential.

So what does this video have to do with Malala Day? What does this video have to do with a day inspired and led by the courageous Pakistani girl who dared, at great cost to her and her family, to confront those who said that girls do not belong in school? Everything.

Malala Day is a day for youth around the world to stand up and embrace the power that they have and the roles that they play in ensuring that all children can enjoy their right to education. There are 4 million more girls out of primary school than there are boys. Girls everywhere share a great deal with Malala’s cause – even though it may seem thousands of miles and hundreds of years away for young girls here in the U.S.

In the U.S., although girls outperform boys in science and math through middle school, boys are more than three times as likely as girls to pursue careers in science, engineering, or technology. And in any field she chooses, a girl can still expect to make 80 cents for every dollar that a man makes.

Women make up no more than 20 percent of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives, and only 10 percent of State Governors. There has still never been a female president for girls to look up to, and prominent women in politics receive scathing personal criticism to an extent that men do not.

Girls' empowerment and girls' advancement – ensuring that all girls have a fair shot at schooling, that they are encouraged rather than denigrated, that they are genuinely heard rather than automatically silenced – is everyone's business.

  • One extra year of primary school can mean 10-20 percent higher wages for a girl.
  • For every additional year of education for women of reproductive age, child mortality decreases by 9.5 percent.
  • Despite the enormous gains that have been made over the last decade on girls’ primary school enrollment, inequality in lower secondary education between the richest male and poorest female is growing in poorer countries. While overall enrollment is getting better, inequality is actually increasing. Furthermore, female teachers, who play such a critical role in motivating young girls, are lacking, especially in secondary school.

We must address this now. These are not just Pakistani or Nigerian issues. Challenges against girls do not exist only in faraway, foreign lands. Girls everywhere face these struggles every day.

This Malala Day, we invite you to get involved with Plan through our Because I am a Girl initiative, with the Malala Fund, or with any number of other organizations that work to bring education and opportunities to girls everywhere.

Or you can simply start in your own backyard. Make sure that in your own life and your own community, girls have every opportunity open to them and that they do not settle for less simply because they are girls. Provide role models, encouragement, and a support system. You can make a difference – and this starts with our words. The next time we say “like a girl,” let’s make sure we mean creative, strong, intelligent, and full of potential.