Today is International Day of the Girl. Today we champion the empowerment of women and girls around the world because empowered girls grow up to be empowered women.
While we have a long way to go when it comes to gender equality, we can also celebrate the fact that a new generation of women are rising up with amplified voices and sharing their voices with the next generation. Today, I want to share how I’m celebrating two women in my life who have risen up to be strong women.
The Empowered Voice of a Filipina in My Life
My older sister, Leilani, was adopted from the Philippines before I was even a glimmer in my parents’ eyes. At the time they adopted Leilani, my parents had started their own business and worked with women in the Philippines, who they admired for their drive and resilience, so they decided they wanted to adopt from the Philippines. While my dad was visiting the orphanage, he noticed that one little girl never took her eyes off of him and that’s how he knew Leilani was the girl they were supposed to adopt. I now know that I had a rather unconventional upbringing. While I know a lot of families who have adopted children from overseas after they had their own biological children, I don’t know any families, like mine, that adopted a child from overseas before they had kids.
Leilani and I shared a room for the first 17 years of my life when she went off to college. She encountered discrimination that I didn’t face personally. However, witnessing her endure inappropriate treatment because of the color of her skin and, at times, because she is also a woman, had a profound impact on me. Leilani has an outgoing, playful, and fun personality, yet she struggled to make friends at a college with a predominately white student body where women flocked to others who looked exactly like them. Instead of giving up on her college dreams, Leilani worked to find a different, diverse community where she could thrive. I admire that she pressed on no matter what to find her calling as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. I’m grateful for the woman she is and that I get to count her as my best friend. In honor of her and my desire to give another young Filipina the chance to rise up and be an independent woman like my sister, I’m sponsoring 6-year-old Zhea, who shares a birthday with sweet Leilani.
The Empowered Voice of a Woman from Sierra Leone in My Life
Mariama became my neighbor 15 years ago before we had children. At first, it was easy to pull into my garage, close the door, and never take time to get to know my neighbors. Then, I had a little girl and when we came home from the hospital, we parked in the driveway to enter the side door of the house as I had a c-section and wasn’t ready to climb the long flight of stairs from the basement garage to the first floor. As we got out of the car, Mariama and her husband were raking leaves and came over to admire our new baby girl. That conversation led to a sweet friendship with Mariama, who gave birth to a beautiful baby girl just 10 months after I became a mom.
Together, we have raised our girls to be best friends who appreciate our different cultures and value our similarities as strong women. While we may not look alike on the outside, our hearts both desire to empower our daughters to rise up and be empowered women. On one occasion, I was preparing for a trip and needed to head to the airport; however, my daughter stormed in the house and slammed the front door behind her. The noise caught me by surprise and I asked her what had happened. She told me that she and Mariama’s daughter were writing on Mariama’s driveway with chalk when the bucket of chalk tipped over and spilled. Accusations started about whose fault it was that the chalk spilled and ended with both girls storming off into their homes. I knew this issue was more urgent than my plane trip, so I asked Mariama to meet me on the driveway. Mariama and I knew that strong women work together to solve their problems. We brought our daughters together to talk through the issue so they could hear each other’s views. As we talked, we could see their postures change from arms-crossed defiance to a gentle smile and eventually a hug and apology.
In thinking about the International Day of the Girl, I remembered reading this article last year and this quote struck me, “When I’ve asked middle school girls about what a leader looks like in their mind, it is an image inherited from the patriarchy, from our male-dominated history and power structure. They talk about business suits, shiny shoes, and bad helmet-like hairdos….” I was curious what two middle school girls in my life would say if I asked them about what leaders look like and whether they aspire to be a leader some day. My daughter responded that a leader looks “strong and independent, just like me” and said that she would love to be a leader as long as she can maintain her independence. Mariama’s daughter shared that leaders have good posture and added, “I hope to be a strong and independent leader some day.” Mariama and I are committed to doing everything we can to ensure our daughters become strong, independent women, perhaps even with good posture. In honor of Mariama and my desire to give another girl from Sierra Leone the chance to rise up and amplify her voice like my dear friend has done for my daughter and her own, I’m sponsoring 8-year-old Mariama.
How You Can Empower Girls
It’s inspiring to see the next generation of women, like Mariama’s daughter, with such confidence, courage and hope. When I look at the beautiful friendship our daughters have, I’m reminded that when we work for equality, we do it not just for ourselves; we do it for the next generation. On this International Day of the Girl, I encourage you to sponsor a girl and give her the chance to become and empowered woman. If you’re not sure how to sponsor a girl, you can click here and start searching. Maybe look for a girl with the name of a woman you admire or who shares a birthday with you. Remember, this isn’t just lip service to a good idea. This is an essential affirmation that empowered girls, like Mariama’s daughter and my own, become empowered women, like Leilani and Mariama, who believe they can and will live in a world that is a better place for us all.
I would love to know how you’re celebrating a girl in your life today. Drop a comment on this post and let me know.