International Day of the Girl

“I am convinced that discrimination against women and girls is one of the world’s most serious, all-pervasive and largely ignored violations of basic human rights.” Mr. Jimmy Carter in the New York Times

Today is the International Day of the Girl Child which “recognize[s] girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.” This morning in my news feed I notice a couple of things that catch my attention: one is the speech by former president, Jimmy Carter, speaking to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The other is the Girl Effect: “Girl Declaration.” This post is my own exploration how birth fits into these interrelated movements.

First of all, I happen to agree with Mr. Carter’s perspective and I think his quote applies perfectly to childbirth violations; the violations both women and children suffer in childbirth are largely ignored and span every country, developed or not. Yet the Declaration does not seem to be heeded…developed or not. In a speech Mr. Carter made last June, he reminds us of the details of the Declaration of Human Rights:

“Every country is sworn to implement these principles of equality in their laws, in their customs and their treatment of men and women. They don’t do it!”

They. Don’t. Do. It. Now let’s look at the Declaration and see what it says about Motherhood and Childhood assistance:

“Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.”  (Article 25)

I’m not sure what special care means, but I don’t think it means silencing women, abusing them (or their babies), denying them access to care or to treat them with anything less than dignity. And as I tend to repeat myself I will say again: it doesn’t matter what country you come from–developed or not–you will hear stories of abuses in childbirth. This tells me that motherhood is undervalued. 

I’m left feeling heavy and hopeful at the same time. It’s all there just waiting to be recognized. But what can we do to bring about change? Almost as an answer, the next thing I see on my Facebook feed is the Girl Effect Declaration which is a “call to action for the post-2015 development agenda: it’s time to stop poverty before it starts.” The taglines are great:

Happy International Day of the Girl

I love reading the declaration (below) because it empowers girls in whatever they choose to do and why wouldn’t that include motherhood? Motherhood has value–it’s there for girls when they grow up and if they choose it. It may seem odd to some to bring attention to motherhood as a future option for girls when it’s currently forced on so many. That said, I think there is room to frame motherhood as a source of empowerment and there is also risk in separating ourselves and girls from the important right of passage that motherhood is.

As for Mr. Carter’s point regarding violations against women and girls being largely ignored, I will say this: let’s leave room for valuing birth and motherhood in our human rights work and ensure girls hear that motherhood can be a source of empowerment, that they have the right to safe motherhood when and if they should choose it as a woman.

The Girl Declaration