We need to support and protect girls so that they can achieve their desire for an education.
I recently finished reading two books by very different individuals who have a common goal: educating all the children in the world (especially girls, who are more likely to be deprived of an education). The books are I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun.
Malala was born into a very poor family in the Swat Valley of Pakistan while Adam was born into an upper-middle-class family in Connecticut. Their lives could hardly have begun in more different circumstances, but both realized an important truth: individuals can have a powerful impact. They didn’t need to wait for the world to change; they decided to act.
Malala, encouraged by her father (who, with much difficulty and privation, opened a school in the Swat Valley), became the voice for girls’ education in Pakistan. Adam initially followed a conventional path by becoming a consultant at Bain, although it was never a comfortable fit: he was left feeling empty and unfulfilled.
Malala and her father defied death threats to continue her education and that of other girls. They realized that educated girls could improve their own and their families’ lives and that nothing should prevent that education.
Adam, an adventurous traveler, discovered how desperately education was needed throughout the impoverished regions of the world. He wanted to create a foundation to build schools in those regions, but his parents and co-workers felt that leaving his job at Bain was too big a risk to take.
When the Taliban shot Malala, it was truly a shot heard ’round the world. Malala’s voice, which primarily had been heard in Pakistan, has now become the international voice championing girls’ education. With the aid of Shiza Shahid, Malala has an organization to raise awareness of the importance of girls’ education.
After several months of a sabbatical from Bain during which he focused on laying the groundwork for his education foundation, Adam realized that he couldn’t return to Bain. He plunged fully into his organization: Pencils of Promise.
Here are two individuals who come from very different backgrounds, but who have common goals. They want to live in ways that make a positive difference in the world by making sure that all children (but especially girls) receive an education.
As Malala states in her book, reflecting on being shot, everyone will die. What matters is how you live.
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- adaptations matter
- walking is the best exercise
- sunshine is necessary
- proper diet = better health
- natural parenting is effective parenting
The other day in my Physical Anthropology class, I was showing a video on genetics that I’d shown in prior semesters, but this time one portion of it struck me in a new way. I believe I have figured out some of the ‘reasoning’ used by those legislators who are pushing personhood bills which declare the zygote (fertilized egg) to be a person who is entitled to all the rights of an actual person.
In Medieval Christian Europe, there was little understanding of biological processes and even less effort made to rectify the situation. The views of the ancient Greeks, especially Aristotle, were taken as the ‘gospel truth’. Unfortunately, Aristotle and other Greeks, such as the physician Galen, did not understand the mechanisms of sexual reproduction in humans.
The ancient Greeks and, therefore, the Medieval Christians, believed that the man provided everything that was needed for a new human, except for a place to grow that new human. The woman was essentially just an incubator. Furthermore, they believed that a tiny person, the homunculus, lived in the head of the sperm. They knew nothing about the ovum/egg.
The man ejaculated this tiny person into the woman and about nine months later, the ‘incubator’ produced a baby. Other than providing a womb for growth, the baby did not belong to the woman. The baby was solely generated, and therefore owned, by the man. Of course, women were also owned (chattel) by men, further diminishing the female contribution to the baby.
As we have seen from the comments made by many of the personhood legislators, their understanding of biology and human reproduction has not progressed beyond that of the Medieval Christians. A belief in the homunculus, whether or not it is articulated, clearly underlies the concept of giving personhood to a zygote and the subsequent ball of cells. Anyone who believes in the homunculus must view a zygote as a miniature person. Following from this, their ‘logic’ leads them to wish to protect this miniature person.
Awarding full personhood rights to a zygote while ignoring the rights of the woman in whom the zygote exists also follows from the Medieval Christian view that women are just incubators who contribute nothing to the embryo/fetus. Since a pregnant woman is an incubator, she has no rights to do anything to the zygote/embryo/fetus. Only men can decide this for her since only men truly ‘generate’ offspring.
These same legislators want contraception/birth control outlawed because it prevents a man from generating more offspring. In their Medieval Christian view, any sperm that is prevented from implanting in the womb results in killing a person since the head of the sperm contains the homunculus. Life doesn’t begin at conception. Life begins in the sperm. Every sperm is a potential life because every sperm has a miniscule person residing in it. This would also explain why masturbation is a sin. Think of all the ‘lives’ that are being wasted/lost!
Since, in this Medieval Christian view, the man is the sole generator of life, and the woman merely an incubator, even rapists deserve to have rights to any resulting offspring. If a woman becomes pregnant despite being raped, then that embryo/fetus is meant to be born. Women (or even young girls impregnated by their fathers) must carry to term all results of sexual activity whether consensual or not. After the birth, the woman has fewer rights over the offspring than does the genitor (man), even if that individual is a rapist. After all, the offspring is more truly his than it is hers since her major role is as an incubator while he was the genitor.
The anti-contraception, anti-abortion, pro-personhood legislation now coursing through state legislatures can be understood if we realize that those pushing this legislation are operating under the Medieval Christian and Aristotlean view of human reproduction: the male is the genitor while the woman is the incubator. Their ‘knowledge’ is stuck in the 11th century. It is little wonder that those of us who live in the 21st century are shocked, amazed, and horrified by these legislators who have no understanding of human reproduction, but who are trying to control women and their reproduction.
December 10, 2012 was the International Human Rights Day, a day that we remind ourselves that far too many individuals still lack basic human rights. There are 27 million men, women, and children laboring in slavery. Girls are too frequently denied an education and forced into early marriage when, instead, girls could be powerful forces of economic and political change.
International Human Rights will not be achieved until women have the same opportunities and rights as men; until we have gender equity. Women’s Rights are Human Rights.
One day each year to remind ourselves that everyone deserves human rights is not often enough. But it is a beginning.
On October 11, 2012, we will celebrate the 1st International Day of the Girl. This past week (10/1/12 and 10/2/12), PBS aired a two-night, four-hour documentary entitled “Half the Sky” which highlighted the work being done to help girls in several different countries. This help includes escaping sex slavery, dealing with rape, obtaining an education, and improving healthcare. As stated on the Half the Sky Movement website, their goal is “Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” If you missed “Half the Sky” on PBS, you can view it online until October 8 (Part 1) and October 9 (Part 2).
Women and girls form 50% of the world’s population. Ignoring their needs imperils the future of us all. One of the biggest issues for girls is being forced into marriage when they are still children. This ends their education, increases the probability that they and their children will be and will remain in poverty, and also exacerbates healthcare issues. President Bill Clinton has called child marriage a form of slavery. Another website that gets to the heart of the issue on why education for girls matters is The Girl Effect.
I hope that you will celebrate the International Day of the Girl by making sure that the girls in your lives have the full range of education and opportunities that they need to become successful women.
After I published Part 1 of this essay, I heard from a friend who thought I was being too harsh in my treatment of the wealthy. She also stated that the best way for those in poverty to have a chance to demonstrate their abilities and intelligence, and to achieve monetary success, was for them to obtain a quality education. While this was not the point of Part 1, I do agree with her that a quality education is a key to ending poverty. Since the poor are unable to provide themselves with a quality education, the funds to provide this education must come from elsewhere. I see two options: philanthropy and/or taxes. Both options rely on the wealthy (or at least those who have incomes well above poverty levels). Therefore, if the relationship [>power = >possessions = >intelligence = >human] I describe is invalid, all of those with the most power and possessions would not consider the poor to be less worthy, less human, than themselves and would willingly provide the funds, whether via philanthropy or taxes, so that the poor could obtain the quality education they need to achieve monetary success.
As with every relationship, there are exceptions. As I mentioned to my friend, Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, does invest his money to improve the lives of the poor. In addition, Branson is working to ensure that his businesses operate in a sustainable manner in order to lessen the burden to Earth’s biosphere. If all of those with great power and possessions/money would follow Branson’s lead, the relationship I describe would be invalid. But I suspect I will be waiting a long time.
PS. Happy Birthday Sir Richard and President Mandela! (July 18, 2012)