Girls Are Not Little Women



This post is my wholehearted contribution to the Girl Effect Blogging Campaign.

In every advanced mammalian species that survives and thrives, a common anthropological characteristic is the fierce behavior of the adult female of the species when she senses a threat to her cubs. The lioness, the tigress and the mama bear are all examples. The fact that the adult human female is so relatively complacent before the collective threats to the young of our species bespeaks a lack of proactive intention for the human race to survive.

Yet how things have been has no inherent bearing on how things have to be, and I think we’re living at a time when Western womanhood is just a moment away from emerging into the light of our collective possibility.

~Marianne Williamson

While we humans are clearly intelligent beings, over time, our intelligence has separated from our wisdom, dividing our smart brains from the wisdom of our hearts and bodies. We’ve marched forward over hundreds of years as if we are separate from the rest of life, as if we hold some lofty privilege that other forms of life are not worthy of. We’ve also separated from each other, from a sense of connectedness that can help us survive in tough times.

It is characteristic of the female of many mammalian species to be protective of her cubs, to fight for the life of the species, to covet life above all else, and to do whatever it takes to keep life going.

Marianne Williamson calls to us to remember this nature of the female, and calls us forth to action, an action that stems from this natural desire to protect. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone else do this better, until now.


Another woman, just barely into her womanhood, is also calling us forward. Her name is Anita and she lives in India. Listen to her story here. The video is short, but it is powerful. She blew me away with her directness and her beautiful audacity, the audacity to ask us, you and me, to do something to support the 600 million girls living in the developing world.

Anita refuses to be a victim of a system that would keep her from her dreams. And, she takes her power one step further. She in turn asks us, those who can do something about the 600 million girls who can’t do anything for themselves, to get off of our duffs and do something, because, in Anita’s words, “what’s happening isn’t working.”

Now it might be easy to respond to her plea by saying, “I don’t have any power.” or “It’s not up to me to fix something that is broken in your country.” or even, “You’re not my child. I have my own problems.” And of course, we have the choice to see things from those perspectives. Or, if Anita’s call has roused you at all, we can shift how we see things. We can look through a different lens.

Let’s call this other lens, The Girl Effect Lens.

The Girl Effect Lens:

The Girl Effect – n.
The unique potential of 600 million adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world.

The Girl Effect shows us that when we change the lives of girls for the better, we change the world for the better. Why is this? Because girls are different than boys, as women are different than men. Neither is better than the other, but the diversity we bring to the world has always been important, and at this critical time, is even more important. According to statistics, when girls are empowered, they are more likely to reinvest their resources back into their families.

  • Fact: When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man. (Chris Fortson, “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World,” Yale News Daily 2003.)

Less than two cents of every international aid dollar spent in the developing world is earmarked for girls. And yet when a girl has resources, she will reinvest them in her community at a much higher rate than a boy would. If the goal is health, wealth, and stability for all, a girl is the best investment. (source, The Girl Effect)

Because many girls grow up to be mothers, investing in their education is more than simply providing them with the means to get a good job. It also keeps them safe during adolescent years when they are more prone to sexual assault and way-too-early marriage, while providing a firm foundation for them to stand on when they become mothers and begin to raise their own children.

  • Fact: Research in developing countries has shown a consistent relationship between better infant and child health and higher levels of schooling among mothers. (George T. Bicego and J. Ties Boerma, “Maternal Education and Child Survival: A Comparative Study of Survey Data from 17 Countries,” Social Science and Medicine 36 (9) [May 1993]: 1207–27.)

If the 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world today follow the path of school drop-out, early marriage and early childbirth, and vulnerability to sexual violence and HIV/AIDS, then cycles of poverty will only continue. (source, the Girl Effect)

whatshesfacingGirls know they’re facing discrimination and injustice. They have dreams and hopes for their lives just like boys. They see the inequities.

  • Girls find themselves at the intersection of age and gender discrimination. While girls do not often refer to their own rights, they express a sense of injustice in many areas of their lives. From expressing frustration at what their brothers get to do to anger about their parents’ lack of support to hopelessness at their experiences of sexual violence, they consistently appeal to a sense of fairness and the violation of that sense. As adolescent girls living in a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, lamented, “Rights exist on paper, but in reality they aren’t put into practice.” (source, Girls Count | The Coalition for Adolescent Girls)

This blog is about rediscovering what it is to be female. I would venture to say many young girls know what it is, because they haven’t yet grown up to forget their instincts and their nature. They show it to us if we are willing to see, if we are willing to open our eyes to what is here. They live it directly, by taking care of their families once they are educated because their parents took care of them. Even when parents try to push them into a life that’s not based on their hopes and dreams, many of the girls come back – as did Anita – to take care of their parents. Anita now has her own business; she’s repaired her family’s house; and she pays their medical bills

This is what the world looks like through the Girl Effect Lens.

I would say this is the same natural response that is in all women. And (this is the key part) it is the same natural response that is needed right now in response to ‘the collective threats to the young of our species’.

These girls are showing us what is dormant in us. They are showing us what life looks like through the Girl Effect Lens.

Anita went so far as to go on a hunger strike for her dream. I can only imagine the obstacles she faced, and the strength and courage she found within. We each have that same resiliency within us.

For me, the problems we face as a global community can seem insurmountable, enough so that I feel like nothing I could do would make a difference. But looking through the Girl Effect Lens helps me here, too. Anita doesn’t have to fix everyone’s home or pay everyone’s medical bills. She is simply giving back to her family. She shared her story, a story that guides us to see things differently. And, she listened to that voice inside, that inner voice that told her to do whatever it took to follow her dream.

That’s all that is being asked of us. To trust the inner voice, to speak out about what is true, to give back, to be proactive members of the global community. The Girl Effect website asks us to Join the Conversation:

Your support, your voice and your action – that’s what it’s going to take to wake up the world and make a real difference. Make yourself part of the Girl Effect revolution. Given the chance 600 million adolescent girls in developing countries can unleash the world’s greatest untapped solution to poverty. This is the Girl Effect. If we can release girls living in poverty, they will do the rest.

Girls Are Not Little Women:

Girls are not little women. They deserve to have their girlhood and their adolescence. They deserve an education, and the choice to marry or not, and at an age of their choosing. They deserve to be free from the very real threat of sexual violence and all the psychological and health issues that come from that violence.

We are women, and we have experienced girlhood. We know how it felt to stand on the brink of adolescence, stand at the doorway to womanhood, and wonder what life would hold. Most of us reading this right now never faced the kinds of injustices and lack of choices that these girls face. Yet, we were girls in a cultural structure where women don’t experience the same equality as men, even if it looks like we do ‘on paper’. Remember what the girls in Brazil said, “Rights exist on paper, but in reality they aren’t put into practice.”

I invite you to go back to the time when you were twelve.

  • How did you sense the world and your place in it?
  • What dreams did you have?
  • Were you given the opportunity to bring those dreams into reality? If not, what got in the way?
  • How did you see girls and women treated?
  • What injustices did you see as a girl?
  • What part of yourself, if any, did you put away in order to fit into a society where age and gender discrimination are believed to be simply ‘the way things are’?
  • What privileges did you have, simply because of the family you were born into did you, and do you continue to, enjoy?

As a woman now in this age that is calling us forth, as both Anita and Marianne do, what have you been blessed with, over the course of your lifetime, that is needed right now to make a difference in these girls lives, a difference that we will all benefit from?

When you look through the Girl Effect Lens, how do you see yourself? What gifts do you possess? What can you do to make a difference so that those 600 million girls might say, “Wow. Thank you. What you are dong IS working.”?”


The Girl Effect website is an incredible resource to find out more about the situation we face in our global community with respect to these 600 million girls. Take some time to watch the videos, read the fact sheets and downloads to understand what’s happening. Pass the videos and links around on Facebook and Twitter.

This post is part of the Girl Effect Blogging Campaign. I invite you to read many other posts and add your own post as part of this important campaign.

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