PITTSBURGH (WOMENSENEWS)–In Pakistan, a schoolgirl who advocates girls’ rights to education is shot in the head by the Taliban. In Nigeria, more than 200 female students are kidnapped from their school by armed extremists opposed to female education.
Global media coverage of these stories has left many U.S. female teens disturbingly aware–as they return to school after the summer break–that what is compulsory and often a killjoy for them in the way of reading, writing and arithmetic could be deadly dangerous if they were living in another part of the world.
And for some, that’s been a spur to action.
In her junior year of high school, Serena Mani, now a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, joined her high school’s Afghan Sister School Club, which fundraises for an all-girls school in Afghanistan. In just two years, by working with her classmates to sell rugs and other Afghan-made goods, she helped the club raise $10,000.
Mani said her interest was sparked when she read the 2013 autobiography of Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old Pakistani who was nearly killed on her way to school in 2012 by Taliban militants. The story of someone who became a global champion of girls’ rights to education inspired Mani to join the club.
“Malala motivated me to do something more than pity her,” said Mani. “As a young woman with many opportunities, I feel compelled to help girls less fortunate than I.”
Elizabeth Hesse, an 18-year-old from Chicago, felt the same way. “The Malala Fund was an easy way for me to show support,” she said, referring to the New York City-based fund, which was formed after the attack on Yousafzai and invests in local, small organizations in regions where the number of girls who are educated is low. “I knew that when I donated $30, the money I sent made a difference to girls in places such as Kenya and Jordan.”
‘We Are Dreamers, Too’
Merryn Spence and Mia Rosenfeld have also been drawn to the cause of girls’ education. Rosenfeld, a rising senior at Pittsburgh’s CAPA High School, and Spence, who just graduated from the same school in June, traveled to Washington, D.C., last year to join a candlelight vigil organized by Amnesty International USA, a branch of the London-based global rights group, to show support for Yousafzai and all girls’ education. Spence remembers chanting, “Malala is a dreamer and we are dreamers too!” and urging strangers to join the rally.
Rosenfeld said more teens would get involved if they knew how. “They either decide to make a difference and get involved in something such as Amnesty International,” she said, “or they care, but their lives are so busy that they just can’t figure out how to fit it in.”
Through Amnesty, Spence and Rosenfeld have sent messages to Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye, the Nigerian ambassador to the United States, and participated in weekly letter writings to prominent political figures about the value of a girl’s education and the societal benefits associated with well-educated women.
“Malala was one of our biggest petitions,” said Gerry Rivadeneira, a representative with Amnesty International, referring to the online petition featured on its website, where users could sign to urge governmental action.
Online Activism’s Value
While real-world community activism is welcome, Rivadeneira, who spoke from her office in South Hadley, Mass., emphasized the importance of online activism. “Online, news spreads like wildfire. Advocating the message through social media inspires all types of community involvement.”
On Twitter, the organization’s #bringbackourgirls campaign to lobby for the rescue of the Nigerian schoolgirls has more than 20,000 retweets and has collected 1.5 million signatures on a related petition.
But for all the outpouring on Twitter, USA Today reports that after four months only 60 of the 300 Nigerian students have escaped, and that attention and support for them has been dwindling. Recently, U.S. surveillance flights over northeastern Nigeria showed what appeared to be large groups of girls held together in remote locations, raising hopes that they are among the group that was abducted, The Wall Street Journal reported.
DoSomething.org, a New York-based organization that focuses on issues facing teens, promotes as many as 200 campaigns at a time and encourages participants to move from online action into offline participation. “The teenagers who are taking online measures, such as ‘liking’ or ‘retweeting,’ are most likely also involved in their communities,” said Calvin Stowell, director of digital and content for the organization.
Plenty of teens, however, respond to the high-profile news of attacks on female students their own age like media consumers everywhere. They shake their heads. But since they don’t feel a real-world connection or sense of what to do, they move on.
“I feel strongly about what’s occurring and hope for the best,” said Alison Klevens, a high school senior in Pittsburgh. “These events are things that I cannot fully comprehend. It is hard to believe that women in other countries who try to obtain a right that is so basic end up oppressed, attacked and kidnapped.”
While she hopes that the Nigerian students will still be rescued, she thinks adults, not teens, are the ones to handle the problem. “Adults are able to help more than teenagers because of money and authority,” she said.
This story is part of Teen Voices at Women’s eNews. In 2013 Women’s eNews retained the 25-year-old magazine Teen Voices to continue and further its mission to improve the world for female teens through media. Teen Voices at Women’s eNews provides online stories and commentary about issues directly affecting female teens around the world, serving as an outlet for young women to share their experiences and views.
Deborah Monti is a rising senior at Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, where she is the editor in chief of her school’s news bulletin “The Eye Opener.”
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