The Girl Child.

Yesterday I attended the NGO Consultation Day for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).   The CSW is a UN commission that promotes gender equality worldwide.   The Commission’s priority theme this year is “access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”   I spent my day hearing perspectives and opinions from various members of our civil society community.

In the afternoon, the forum split up into breakout sessions around various themes.   I chose to attend the session on “the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child.”   My group was asked to discuss the obstacles faced by young girls around the world, and some interesting themes emerged in the discussion.   For one, the cultural obstacles in promoting gender equality for young girls are still vast around the globe.   One group member shared a story from Africa about mothers placing burning hot coals on their young daughter’s breasts, in order to prevent them from developing too much, as a means to prevent the girls from being raped.   While mothers who do this to their daughters believe they are protecting them from a greater harm, it is unacceptable that this needs to be the solution to rape in some parts of the world.   Too often, girls are seen as the problem and are considered a burden on their families.   But in reality, society is the problem.   Instead of harming young girls in an attempt to protect them, we need to punish perpetrators of crimes and change the societal perceptions around who is shunned after a rape takes place — the victim (who is often seen as ineligible for marriage) or the perpetrator (who often faces minimal, or no, consequences).

The theme of harming girls in order to “protect” them is evident in numerous settings.   Many traditional families prevent their girls from practicing the same freedoms as their boys because of the strong belief that girls require protection.   While as a feminist, I do not believe that girls need protection any more than boys do, this becomes difficult to argue when there is often a culture of impunity for men and boys.   If men and boys do not receive harsh punishments for crimes such as rape, and therefore have no disincentive to refrain from committing such crimes, families essentially oppress their girls as a method of “protection.”   Thus, whether the constant protection is directed towards one’s daughter, sister or niece, the female race is often disempowered by the actions of its male family members.

A second theme that emerged in our break out session was the role the media plays in encouraging negative stereotypes of young girls and objectifying them as sexual objects.   One example shared by a young man from the UK was about a push-up bra marketing campaign aimed at seven-year-old girls.   Yes, that’s right — seven-year-old girls.   While the Internet is allowing the general public to play a role in combating such messages coming from the mainstream media, it is still imperative that the mainstream media change its messaging to, and about, girls.   It is not justifiable for the media and corporations to treat female children as sex objects and encourage them to focus only on their physical attributes (especially before they are even formed).

The NGO Consultation Day was a great forum for civil society members to come together, share their thoughts and engage in constructive dialogue in order to create positive change for women around the world.   I would encourage anyone in New York to get involved and attend the CSW Parallel Events taking place over the next two weeks.