In a complicated world, these facts are actually quite simple. Last Tuesday, October 9th, a little girl—14 years old to be precise—was shot in the head by the Taliban because she had stood up for her right to receive an education. The story probably crossed your radar at some point last week. It probably did make you stop. I don’t underestimate that.
It made me remember a woman who made quite an impression on me. Sitting in on a panel on ‘women in leadership’ during my freshman year, I heard the amazing stories of women from Kenya and South Africa, Brookline, Massachusetts and India. I sat there in awe of all that they had accomplished. These were women who had started nonprofits, who had run marathons, who were kicking open doors left and right for young women like me.
And then out of the corner piped up the voice of a panelist who was not at all enthused by our discussion. Wiry in frame with a pixie cut, her Scottish accent was unmistakable.
“You know I have a hard time sympathizing for you ladies. Where I worked in Afghanistan, women weren’t worried about getting into the workplace. They were scared their kids wouldn’t make it through the night because bombs were exploding outside their windows.”
She said it without constraint, without apology. Her message was clear. Face it: the problems you face are, for lack of a better word, first world problems. To say this is not to mitigate that women really do face problems here in the United States. There are barriers to equality, there is unfairness in the workplace, there are family and economic issues that really do affect us more.
But to acknowledge what this woman said is to reframe the way we think about women’s empowerment. In this national election I have heard the candidates frame this issue as a family issue, an economic issue, a national security issue. All of which is great and which I do not by any means deny. But women’s empowerment and education is also a fundamental human issue. A the-world-over issue and we ought to all start remembering that when we engage in this discussion, we cannot just talk from above. We have a responsibility not just to our sisters and daughters and girlfriends here at home but to also those girls too who live an ocean away from us, many of whom dream of one day seeing our shores.