During this year’s International Day of the Girl, I was able to see the hashtag #GirlsBelongHere in action.
When I attended Glamour Magazine’s Glamour4Edu event in New York City, I was surrounded by bright and empowered young girls from all around the city who came to highlight the importance of education, self-love, and activism. Being in a room where girls were able to laugh, sing, and learn together was amazing, and hearing from Ashley Graham, Uzo Aduba, Yara Shahidi, Cory Booker, and many more champions for girls’ education and rights added to the energy of the event. Listening to the perspectives of the girls at the event reminded me of the importance of having spaces where our voices are heard and taken seriously. Girls as young as 11 spoke up about being discouraged from pursuing their interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and how they had been made to feel less important than their male counterparts in academic environments.
The following day, I was excited to hear about the experiences of girls in Albania and share my insight on what life is like in the United States for girls. MSNBC journalist and fellow Plan Ambassador Richard Lui was in Albania and invited me to Skype with some students to discuss the importance of International Day of the Girl. Richard and I discussed issues that are prevalent in American society like the wage gap, “mansplaining,” and the perception of feminism, and the Albanian students discussed their frustration with sexist cultural norms like telling pregnant women that they hope they have sons and the practice of giving more opportunities to boys and men. They also spoke about some of the discrimination they face as girls interested in male-dominated fields like medicine. The young men in the room talked about how important it is for boys and men to be engaged in these conversations, and it was refreshing to hear why the boys considered themselves feminists.
Hearing girls from two different cultures share their stories about feeling ignored and undervalued because of their gender allowed me to connect with the hashtag #GirlsBelongHere in a different way. When talking about #GirlsBelongHere, many people emphasize that girls and women have a right to exist in spaces dominated by men. But, beyond this, this year’s International Day of the Girl highlighted that opportunities and education are essential in ensuring that girls are able to excel in any space they’d like.