As I wake from jet lag at 3 a.m., the girls in the Wari slum of Dhaka are just getting out of school. I can’t help but wonder what else I can do to help them finish their education and grow up to become thriving young women.
So, how can we help girls half way around the world reach their God-given potential? The goal is not to make them more like us or change their culture, but I think there is value in looking at what makes us thrive as a nation. What mindsets do we possess that help us as women in America reach our God-given potential?
One thing that hits close to home for me is the worth we place on the lives of people; my female friends in Bangladesh have pointed out to me that women in America are valued as contributing members of society. In my generation we have been blessed by women who wanted to make a change from the ground work laid by generations of women before us.
Because of their efforts, I can vote. I can get an advanced degree. I can excel in the work place. I can give back to my community. Sure, I can’t do everything I want, but I can do nearly anything I choose to do—because the society I live in supports the value of life regardless of race, gender or religious beliefs. That hasn’t always been the case…
So, as a global aunt to the girls of Bangladesh, I find it my responsibility to speak out on their behalf. I want to amplify their voice, for the change they want to see. If our daughters can finish high school, why can’t young women succeed there? They can’t do it alone. They need the voice of others to stand by their side and encourage them in their efforts.
Bangladesh ranks third in child marriage in the world, and there are many factors that play into the decision to marry young. There are economic implications to waiting for marriage, such as the dowry goes up as girls get older. In this male dominate society, it is the eldest brother (the uncle, if the father is not the eldest) who decides when a girl is to marry. There are great risks to waiting for marriage; if a girl waits past puberty and is raped, she becomes a shameful burden on the family.
Food for the Hungry is working in communities in Bangladesh to change mindsets through savings groups. Women learn their value, to read and are trained to start or extend small businesses, such as sewing, basket weaving and chicken farming. Women become income generators for their families.
In savings groups, which are made up of 18 to 20 members, women find strength in numbers. Last week, I met a grandmother who told me, “I was married at 12. My daughter was married at 12, but my granddaughter won’t marry until after she finishes her education and when she is ready.”
Change is happening! Consider this your invitation to join in! Here’s how:
1. Sponsor a child. Your relationship with a girl or boy will give them courage to continue their education.
2. Walk with us. International Women’s Day in Phoenix on March 10!
3. Pray for women around the world. Start with one!