Saturday, September 3

Updating an Incorrect Statistic

This December, it will have been five years since I created the "It Only Takes a Girl" video. Like any piece of information or media that is five years old, this video is a little outdated. Don't get me wrong: child marriages are still a huge issue around the world, and girls' education is still an area that demands significant improvement. In fact, the Malala Fund recently announced that, according to a new UNESCO report, more than 130 million girls around the world are still out of school. This is completely unacceptable.

No matter how bleak the facts are, though, we want to be careful never to exaggerate or overstate what’s going on. Honesty and transparency are vital to any movement.

I received an email recently from a friend of a friend pointing out an incorrect statistic in my video. She said:

There’s some powerful stuff in [this video] and this is certainly a worthwhile cause.

However, with all due respect, [you] may want to correct some erroneous statistics about property ownership by women in [your] video. Check out this article.

The key paragraph is:

"She cited a paper that she co-wrote with Quisumbing and other researchers, based on studies across Africa, that found that on average, across 10 countries in Africa, 39 percent of women and 48 of men reported owning land. This was often joint ownership, as 'only 12 percent of women report owning land individually, while 31 percent of men do so.' So men generally own more property than women. But women own far more than just 1 percent."

I think it’s very important to be as truthful as possible so as not to give critics a foothold for their arguments.

I really appreciated this email, and I completely agree that it is vital to be as truthful as possible, especially in activist work. One stumble, and people tend to discredit the whole movement.

Since posting my video five years ago, I have indeed come across the research that has corrected the “1% of property myth.” I had gotten my original statistic for the video directly from the UNIFEM website, which actually no longer exists. At the time that I was making the video in 2011, there was no research to suggest that this statistic was not true (at least, none that was readily available to me). Since then, smart people have actually looked into and disputed this statistic, which does not hold up under scrutiny.

Now, of course, it is too late for me to change my video. But moving forward, I always plan to be extremely discerning in the statistics that I choose to use. In fact, I want to go into a career in data science, which is all about interpreting data and using statistics to tell as truthful a story as possible about the state of the world we live in.

I appreciate being challenged, and I always respect when people do not take information at face value. As the saying goes, there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. (I was tempted to attribute this quote to Mark Twain, but going along with the theme of this post, I actually did some research to see who the source of this quote really was. Turns out, it was not Mark Twain who originally said it, and the actual source is unknown!).

If any readers notice any other errors in my video—or in any other media you consume—I encourage you to do your due diligence and challenge the source. It is vital to spread the message that girls around the world are still being oppressed on the basis of gender, but exaggerating the facts does no one any good.

Friday, November 6

Sólo se necesita una niña

Back in May, two different Peace Corps volunteers--one in Paraguay and one in the Republic of Georgia--separately emailed me, asking if they could recreate my video and translate it into the local languages of the countries in which they were working. I enthusiastically granted them permission, excited about seeing my video (or a version of it, at any rate) become more accessible to more people.

I admit, I had since forgotten that these email exchanges had taken place--that is, until I heard back from the volunteers, both within the past couple of weeks. Both volunteers worked with youths in their countries to recreate and translate my video (and, in the Georgian version's case, add more Georgia-specific information and statistics).

Check out some of the highlights below--the full videos are embedded at the bottom of this post, but the Georgian version can also be viewed here and the Paraguayan version here.

Some boys even got involved!


The video that the youths in Georgia created is a little longer than my original was, and it is awesome.

This says: "Georgian youth from all around the country joined together...
...To raise awareness about the effects of early marriage on girls' education in Georgia."

The beginning of the video seemed pretty familiar...

"Imagine a girl... any girl."
"Now, imagine she is married before she is 15, usually to a much older man."

But then, there was some new stuff.

"Child marriage still exists in Georgia today...
...The regions of Kvemo Kartli, Kakheti, and Samstkhe-Javakheti are the most affected areas in the country."

The Georgia-specific information was pretty unbelievable.

"In Georgia, cases of forced marriage, abduction of girls,
and marriage deals made between parents still occur."
"The WHO and other organizations called on Georgia's government
to formally declare early marriage a human rights violation...
...And they did it."

But no matter where in the world child marriage is happening, the message is still the same:

"Girls have a RIGHT to stay in school."

There is still so much that needs to change. 

"As of 2015, 17% of Georgian women were married before they turned 18."
"Girl brides in general are less likely to know their rights,
and are more likely to be the victims of domestic violence...
...However, getting married and having children is often seen
as a woman's most important role."

But there is hope.

"An educated girl has a ripple effect...
...Giving girls the tools to learn can impact families, communities, and the world."

The ending of the video is especially touching... I really encourage you to give it a watch.

The Paraguayan version was pretty incredible as well, and overall more familiar.

"Imagine a girl...
...Any girl."
"Your daughter...
Your granddaughter...
Your niece."
Now, imagine she is nothing more than a burden for her family. So she is taken out of school and married to a much older man. Within the year, she is pregnant. She is too poor to send her own daughter to school.

"Without education, her daughter is no more than a burden for her family...
...The cycle begins again."
"1 in 7 girls in the developing world marries before she is 15.
This is what 15 looks like."

Child marriage is a human rights violation. Yet, 25,000 girls younger than 18 are married every day.

There are 600 million girls in the developing world, and about a fourth of them are not in school. But when a girl does manage to stay in school, delay marriage, and get an education, really amazing things can happen. 

"Invest in the future. Make a change.
Save a life."
"It only takes a girl."

Thank you so much to the Peace Corps volunteers and all of the talented Georgian and Paraguayan youths who took the time to spread this message even farther. There is still so much to be done, but with such incredible girls (and boys!) working on this issue, I know we will see a real change in my lifetime.

This is the full video from Paraguay:

And here's the full video from Georgia:

Tuesday, June 17

Zoe Keating Needs Our Help

Hello supporters of girls’ rights. I’m gonna cut right to it: I have some sad news for you today. I hope you remember the amazing artist, Zoe Keating, whose song “Optimist” I used as the music for my video. About a month ago, Zoe’s husband Jeffrey was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. If that was not painful enough, his insurance provider, Anthem Blue Cross, denied him coverage, despite the fact that Zoe and Jeffrey have paid an estimated $100,000 in premiums since they became members in 2008. In Zoe’s own words:

“On May 13 an MRI found 20 tumors in my husbands brain. On May 15 he could barely breathe and was in a lot of pain. A CT scan that day revealed he had a softball-sized tumor in his lung, tumors in his other lung, his liver and possibly his bones. On our way home from the imaging center our primary care doc called and told us to turn around and get to the hospital right away. My husband was admitted and they promptly removed more than a pint of fluid from his lungs, which helped him breathe better. We were there for 6 days while they performed a bronchoscopy, did more scans, gave him drugs to stop his brain from swelling and administered emergency chemo.

“Today I got a letter from Anthem Blue Cross regarding his hospital stay:

Coverage for the requested service is denied because the service does not meet the criteria for ‘medical necessity’ under your description of benefits. To assist our Medical Director in making this decision, we have put a process in place to send all information about the service to a clinical reviewer with appropriate credentials. Based on their opinion, we have determined that covered for the requested service is denied. Our Medical Reviewer Layma Jarjour MD has determined we cannot approve your hospital stay for cancer. We do not have enough facts to show that it was medically necessary.

“Anthem is owned by WellPoint. Did you know CEO Joseph Swedish earned almost $17 million during his first year on the job. Now you know how they can afford to pay him.”

Photo from
Zoe posted an update that there seems to be some hope and a little progress made towards getting coverage, but she and Jeffrey should not be left in this state of uncertainty in this kind of severe situation. 

Zoe recently created a link to donate on her website. She says, “I support my family 100% with my music and I've always been proud of that. But now is not the time for my pride to get in the way. We need help. So for those of you who feel inspired to help us get through this awful time, here is a donation button. I thank you with the deepest possible thanks.” I think it is incredibly brave of her to reach out to her supporters and ask for their, well, support. If any of you feel able, I would really encourage you to donate here
Thank you for reading.

Thursday, March 20

My Video is "Upworthy"!

We have some VERY exciting news today: my video has been posted on Upworthy!

A few months ago, I reached out to a couple of the staff over at Upworthy on Twitter:

and last week, Rossalyn Warren responded:

I have been following Upworthy on social media for awhile now and have been exposed to some pretty amazing content through their posts. I couldn't be more pleased that they have chosen to highlight the important issues facing women worldwide by posting and promoting my video. Thank you so much to Rossalyn and the Upworthy team--you're the best!

Tuesday, February 4

"I'm Just Joking": Why I Take Oppressive Language Seriously and You Should Too

Below is an essay written by my younger sister about the importance and power of language and its direct link to oppression. Maybe I'm biased, but I thought this essay was beautifully written, perfectly articulated and extremely relevant.


“I’m not a feminist, I just believe that both genders should be treated equally.”

“Tell me, why are girls so mean?”

“Are you on your period, is that why you’re mad?”

“Quit being such a feminazi, we’re just joking.”

Language and oppression have been so entangled in the human mind for so long that we start to forget just how powerful words can be. Especially among adolescents, a sense of invincibility that comes from being a part of a generation that is viewed as tolerant and progressive leads to unabashed use of racist and sexist slang and comments under the assumption that it’s “just a joke” and can’t do any real harm since they “don’t really think like that.”

Among my friends, a diverse group of extremely intelligent, well-educated teens, sexist language has become as accepted as any other form of communication. They call each other derogatory names for female genitalia, they make hateful, degrading sexual comments about our English teacher when she assigns what they think is too much homework, and they dismiss any backlash about this behavior as overreacting or PMSing. They won’t hear any criticism because as far as they’re concerned, if the right intention is buried beneath their slurs, they can say whatever they want.

What they don’t understand, what they refuse to accept, is that by making sexist language acceptable, they are making sexism itself acceptable. When they make a comment on my friend’s breasts instead of listening to what she has to say, they aren’t just making a joke—they are actually objectifying her. When they use a pejorative term for vagina to call each other weak or cowards, they are perpetuating the connection between women themselves and weakness or cowardice. They think that since they weren’t intending their words to be oppressive, they can’t be harmful. But they are.

After all, language is the basis of how we think. We think in words. And if those words continue to imply that women are less than men, we will, as a society, continue to think that way. In George Orwell’s 1984, the Party realized how much influence language has on thought. They created a new language, newspeak, which changed and eliminated words that reflected views opposing the Party’s goals, such as freedom and equality. The idea was that without the knowledge of these words, without the ability to express these ideas through language, people would not be able to think in a way that conflicted with Party ideals.

Photo from Flickr user Jason llagan
The same concept applies to sexist language. This is not to say we should forget or ignore sexist slang altogether—of course, in a democracy, it is necessary that the full range of expression be accessible. But it does illustrate the idea that as long as sexist language is allowed to be so pervasively commonplace, sexist thought will also be considered acceptable.

An interesting discrepancy I’ve found amongst my peers, with regards to their perception of what it is acceptable to say, is that in recent years they have become admirably averse to using homophobic slang—while use of the n-word and misogynistic language have become ubiquitous. The basic explanation behind this disparity, as far as I can tell, is that the fight against sexuality-based discrimination is happening right now, and visibly. Gay marriage, LGBT portrayal in the media, sexuality-related hate crimes—these are all major topics of discussion and activism at the moment, so people recognize that in order to make progress in the present, we have to cut out the offensive language. On the other hand, kids think that the fights for women and blacks are over. All of the major “checkpoints” have, in their minds, been passed: voting rights, interracial marriage, female congresspeople, black president. So, apparently, we don’t have to be careful any longer: we can make sexist and racist jokes because sexism and racism don’t really exist anymore.

But the fight isn’t over. As long as my cousin is paid less than the man she trained for the same job, as long as my female classmate thinks Hillary Clinton would have gone no where had she not “clung” to her husband, and as long as “getting laid” in high school brings a boy praise but a girl ridicule, we still have a long way to go.

One of the greatest obstacles to the feminist struggle against sexism, however, is the word “feminist” itself. The word has been demonized to such a degree that for the ignorant, it has come to refer only to the supposed man-hating, female supremacy radicals that the media and the internet love to portray but who don’t really exist in large numbers. Feminism, a word that comes from a long history in which securing equality has meant elevating of the status of women, has been grossly misinterpreted—often intentionally by those who would wish to silence the movement—making it seem extremist and hypocritical, when it actually reflects the views of most intelligent, modern people.

Photo from Flickr user Steve Rhodes
This vilification of the word has lead to a contempt for the whole idea of gender equality and the people who try to promote it. The use of “feminist” as an insult dismisses and marginalizes the ideas behind feminism, which are otherwise difficult to contest—and it is not used derogatorily only by blatant sexists who actually oppose feminist ideas. Those who otherwise consider themselves proponents of equality but are accused of sexism or sexist language, uncomfortable with being criticized and made to feel unprogressive, also tend to dismiss their critics as crazy or militant. They make fun of “fanatical feminists” to make themselves feel not bigoted but merely moderate, when in truth, feminism itself should be considered a unifying, centrist movement. Instead, sexism takes the mainstream, and feminism is banished to the fringe.

The world likes to think it has conquered sexism, but until we can put our mouths where our money is we can never really change societal attitudes towards women. Sexist language is just as harmful to the ideal of permanent gender equality as any other big-ticket issue; the difference is that it can be fought on the small scale, by anyone. There is no excuse for devaluing women through speech, regardless of whether it was said in anger or meant as a joke, because it only functions to strengthen the ongoing, underlying belief in the inferiority of women. Even when all the tangible, measurable pillars of institutional sexism have been taken down, the feminist battle cannot be won until the world truly believes—and can articulate its belief—in the power and value of women.

Saturday, January 25

My Post on Winnovating

Hello all!

Have you seen the post I wrote recently for Winnovating, an awesome blog that highlights women who are innovating in their field? I wrote about Melissa Banigan, a truly inspiring woman who is "winnovating" how we give advice to teenage girls through her upcoming anthology "Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self". I've included an excerpt from my post below, and you can see the whole thing by following this link to the Winnovating website.

. . . With such a dearth of comprehensive, accurate sexual health education, many girls turn to outside sources for information. Unfortunately, these “outside sources” tend to be sensationalized TV shows, gossip at sleepovers or in the locker room, and Urban Dictionary or other not-quite-scientific sites online. And even if, in the best case scenario, a teen girl does manage to pick up a more informative guidebook on puberty, sex, and other relevant topics, the standard advice books for teen girls on the market today barely skim the surface of some of the more important issues girls face, including HIV, depression and body dysmorphia.

Melissa Banigan, a fiction novelist, editor, travel blogger, marketer and single mother, thinks girls around the world deserve a lot better. To address this problem, Melissa started a project called Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self, an anthology that will consist of letters by fifty women from around the world writing advice to their thirteen-year-old selves about entering womanhood.

“Unlike many advice books for teens that only gloss over our bodies and women’s health,” says Melissa, “this book candidly talks about sex, HIV/AIDS and the clitoris. Letters also discuss female genital mutilation, genocide, rape and a variety of other topics so often seen in the news, but rarely discussed in classrooms. The book won’t be delicate. Instead, it will treat the young women reading it like strong, intelligent people who are capable of making their own decisions.” . . .

Perhaps it shouldn’t be innovative in 2014 to talk openly about the bodies, lives and minds of real women and girls*, but the truth is, much of the information girls receive about womanhood is incomplete, misleading, or even harmful to their health and self esteem. The conversations (or lack thereof) about women’s bodies in our media and society today give girls the impression that there is something inherently wrong with or shameful about our female selves. Melissa’s project subverts that silence and sheds light on these important issues, empowering girls with the knowledge they need to approach womanhood confidently and successfully.

Make sure to check out Melissa’s Indiegogo campaign and follow the Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self project online.

Thursday, September 19

Important Announcements on Changing the World

Hello all! It's been awhile since I've written—I just started my third semester of college, and I've been busy, busy, busy! But there are two very important things I would like to talk to you about today.

The first is an awesome organization that reached out to me recently to tell me about the amazing work they are doing in the areas of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity in developing countries.

As you may have guessed, the issue of maternal and infant health around the world is incredibly important to me. Women and Children First is an international development agency based in the UK whose mission is “to improve the health and wellbeing of women, girls and children in poor and marginalised communities.” And there is much improvement needed in this arena: according to Women and Children First's website, “Between 250,000 and 343,000 women and three million newborn babies die each year in pregnancy and childbirth or soon afterwards,” and “99% of maternal deaths occur in the developing world, making maternal mortality the health statistic with the largest disparity between developed and developing countries.” One way that Women and Children First addresses this issue is through community mobilization, particularly women's groups. As Molly Melching at Tostan and many other organizations have proven, empowering communities to institute necessary change themselves is a highly effective—perhaps the most highly effective—way to bring about sustainable, lasting change. Please take a moment to check out this wonderful organization and see how you can get involved in changing the lives of women and children around the world.

WaCF has a beautiful collection of photos on their Flickr page

Another beautiful photo from WaCF's Flickr

A women's group in Kamar Dangi, Faridpur

The second important announcement: don't forget to register now and put your International Day of the Girl (IDG) event on the map for this October 11th! Join thousands around the world to celebrate the power of the girl on this day. October 11th happens to be my birthday (:D), so I am planning a birthday party full of video screenings, discussion, and, of course, cake!, with some of my closest friends and family.

Post in the comments below or holler at me on Facebook or Twitter and tell me about the exciting plans YOU have for the second-annual IDG. I would love to share you creative and impactful IDG ideas on my various social media outlets, so please let me know!