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By: Rachel Jimenez, Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations (ACOUN)

Today is International Day of the Girl (IDG), which means we must not only celebrate what goals we have achieved so far, but also advocate and take action for what changes we want to see in the future. While girls still struggle for gender parity, thousands of organizations are stepping up to make sure that girls have the platform to voice their concerns and goals for the future, and we want to step up to the plate.

In order to better understand what girls need and what changes they want to see, we simply need to ask. This is what led us to Miss Paloma Mafoud, a nine-year old fourth grade student from Avenues Elementary School. We asked her for a statement on the question, “Do you feel as if you are treated equally?”

Immediately, Miss Mafoud began touching on crucial feminist ideologies about what defines a woman. “I already feel equal; the boys don’t make me feel equal, but it’s not the boys that make me equal, it’s me.” In this statement we see that she recognizes herself as the author of her own self-worth. She does not look to boys to validate her existence, which is crucial as the world around us tries to shape girls and women into a one-size-fits-all model.

However, what happens when a girl’s self-worth is clouded by confidence mistaken as vanity, “nos” that are unheard, and self-defense that is taken as aggression? It is up to us to claim and advocate for gender parity, but how can we do so when our determination is misconstrued as aggression? And when our ideological fight for equality is taken as a fight of war with weapons?

Miss Mafoud touched on problems with aggression that we, as adults, may write-off in the early lives of children as ignorance but truly need to start correcting. “[Boys] try to annoy us, even when we ask them to stop. Then when we yell at them to stop they get mad and say we could’ve asked in a nicer way.” What Miss Mafoud did not realize is that she touched on two serious grievances girls and women face today. One being that our “nos” are primarily discounted. Secondly, that when we stand up for ourselves, we are labeled as aggressive.

Now, the question is, how can we make sure that boys are learning from an early age that no means no? And that asserting a right for freedom from unwanted actions is tenacious? From Miss Mafoud, I realized that beyond teachers: educators, babysitters, mentors, and friends can help teach children to treat everyone equally, understand the value of no, and refrain from the use of negative labels in an effort to advocate for the better future of the girl child.

Today, on IDG, and every day, I urge you to seek out the girl child and listen to her concerns, remind her that her self-worth is her own to create, her confidence beautiful, and her aggression a fire that should never be put out.

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