One of my favorite memories of elementary school was a science project I completed on hydroponics. The scientific method, the research, growing tiny plants in all sorts of places and mediums - really, could anything be more fun? That project ignited a life-long love of science and a long-standing interest in how we grow our food. So what does that have to do with a real life Justice Girl? I'm glad you asked.
Enter Stage Right, one Ms. Stella Bowles, age twelve, from Nova Scotia (a place I've always wanted to visit). Stella (if I may) wanted to swim in the river. Her mom told her it wasn't a good idea because the water was contaminated. Stella decided she wanted to learn more. During a science project, Stella decided to sample the LaHave River. She found high levels of enterococcus bacteria that exceeded governmental guidelines. How bad was the water? Not only shouldn't you drink it, or boat in it; you shouldn't even touch it. No wonder her Mom told her to choose a new swimming spot. The source of the contamination? Illegal straight line sewage pipes that were discharging fecal matter straight into the river.
Now, the fact that raw sewage was entering the river wasn't a real surprise to many. So how did Stella manage to attract attention and drive political leaders to begin steps to make things right? Stella began posting her findings on a Facebook page devoted to her science project. The results went viral. She made the issue human and real, and politicians couldn't look the other way anymore.
Stella is a great example of a Justice Girl in action. She saw a problem, learned more about it, and told others what she found. She harnessed the power of social media and attracted the attention of the national media.
So, the next time you're assigned a science project (or any other school project), don't hesitate to think big and tackle a real problem. At the very least, you're going to learn something. If you're lucky, you might be able to teach others (including a few adults) something too!
Home. Four tiny letters that, like love, we take for granted until they're gone. But what does home mean to girls around the world?
For nine-year-old Hailey Fort, home is about providing the homeless with shelter and food. She raises money, collects clothing, toiletries, and feminine hygiene products, and is now growing food to distribute. The shelters she builds are mobile so their occupants can move them if needed. Some Justice Girls don't let their age stop them from doing something RIGHT NOW to help others.
Imagine losing not only your home but your country. This is precisely what has happened to the girls living in Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Syrian refugee girls envision their futures in an act of courage and hope. Girls see futures as doctors, teachers, photographers, and yes - as an astronaut. Malala Yousafzai commented in her book, I Am Malala (Young Readers Edition), about how much she missed her home in Pakistan. Sometimes Justice Girls have to build new homes in new places.
Eleven-year-old Dasani finds refuge from life in a New York shelter in school - and her imagination. Will she persevere or will she remain just another "invisible child" - and invisible girl? For too many Justice Girls home is not an easy place to live.
Home is certainly a place; a shelter to safely protect you from the elements and harm. Home is also something more to many people. It is a country or community. It involves relationships and identity. Refugees have lost both their physical shelters and their countries. The homeless, too, have lost their shelter but also the communities they once inhabited.
Justice Girls make a difference for the homeless in many ways. Being mindful of the blessings of one's own home is one way. Justice Girls don't simply look away or feel guilty about homelessness. Instead, they act in small ways and large. Raising awareness through school projects is one way, as is collecting food, toiletries, and clothing for the homeless in one's community. Justice Girls also help themselves if they are homeless. Their courage and hope each day are enough.
Ultimately, Justice Girls find that home lies within themselves. From this place of security, comes the power and courage to face everything else.
In India, there are estimated to be up to three acid attacks against girls and women every day. Potential suitors and angry husbands wield the caustic weapon against girls and women who reject or anger them. Laxmi Agarwal was 15 when she was attacked by a stalker; Dolly was only twelve. Neither allowed their disfigurement to achieve what their attackers desired - to control them, erase them, and force them into a life of "If I can't have you then no one will." Ms. Agarwal obtained 27,000 signatures on a petition to tighten acid sales and distribution. Dolly works at a cafe run by a local organization rightly-named Sheroes.
Acid attacks aren't common in western countries. However, these types of attacks affect women in other countries including Bangladesh and Cambodia, are rising in Colombia, and are seen in Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan.
What do acid attacks in countries around the world have in common with girls' lives in places like the United States (U.S.) and Europe? They have more in common than you might think. Acid attacks are about power and control - a man's power and control over a girl/woman. These stories almost always involve a man who likes/loves a woman and when she doesn't reciprocate he takes his revenge.
Think about that. The core of these stories is that a man likes/love a woman "so much" that he is driven to hurt her.
Now let's step back for a moment. Girls and women in western countries hear this same story a great deal. It doesn't involve acid, but it often involves violence or harassment or control. When girls are harassed in school by their male classmates, they're told "Oh, he must like you." A romantic trope in many of our movies is the boy pursues the girl relentlessly until she finally says yes (because she didn't really mean no to begin with). If a girl doesn't like this male attention she's "gay," "too sensitive," "uptight," or other derogatory gems.
A girl is all of these things because she doesn't like a boy. A woman is all of these things if she's moved on from a relationship. Too often the spurned man exacts his revenge.
Between 2001-2012 in the U.S., almost twice as many women were killed by someone who "loved" them as U.S. soldiers died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Roughly three women a day die at the hands of men who "love" them in the United States alone. Globally, about half of all women killed died at the hands of people who "loved" them. This behavior is socialized and learned by both men and women, boys and girls.
What can Justice Girls do to make a change? Quite a bit, it turns out. Here are just a few ideas.
Violence isn't love and love isn't violence. Girls (and women) have a right to choose whom they like (and don't like) and girls (and women) have a right to say no.
The Justice Girls commends and thanks everyone who works towards creating a world that teaches girls AND boys these important lessons. Let's end domestic violence in our lifetime.
Promised in marriage to a cousin at age 12, Balkissa Chaibou did her best to delay the inevitable. But when at age 16 her wedding day was upon her, she did something extraordinary. She took her father and uncle to court to contest an unwanted marriage. Even more extraordinary she won - and lived to tell the tale.
More common is the story of Saba Qaiser. The 19-year-old Pakistani woman had the audacity to marry for love. She was then lured to her and shot by an uncle and her father to restore the family's "honor" - otherwise known as an honor crime. An honor crime occurs world-wide about every 90 minutes. Saba's story is the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, A Girl in the River.
In Niger, where Balkissa lives, 1 in 3 girls is married by age 15 and 3 in 4 are married by age 18. In ten countries, more than half of all girls are married by age 18. Who are these girls? Too Young to Wed shows us in a powerful pictorial display.
Child marriage is a reality for too many girls. It denies them an education, it deprives them of control over their bodies, and it creates fundamental dangers to girls' health and safety. The Justice Girls commend Balkissa Chaibou and Saba Qaiser for their courage. The Justice Girls commend all girls and women (and the courageous people who help them) fighting child marriage world-wide.
Think this issue is too big for Justice Girls like you? Think again. Write a school report, share information on child marriage through social media, write a petition to your political representatives, raise money to donate to organizations fighting child marriage ... there's so much you can do! And let the good folks at Too Young to Wed know what you've done!