Oh! The places you CAN go!
To my two daughters,
You are fortunate, very fortunate. You were both born at seven and a half month – six weeks before you were due to arrive. You were both fortunate as, from the very first minute, you benefited from the best neonatal care possible and, as a consequence, had no side effects of this early birth. As your mother, I was fortunate too, as I received the best maternal care available.
You are fortunate because you are born in what we call a “first world country”, France. You have access to one of the best healthcare systems, to the best schools and universities, to healthy and nutritious nourishment, to security and to freedom and access to justice.
You will be faced with a wealth of choices: you can choose your husband or partner, you can choose if and when you wish to have children and how many you want. You can choose whom you want to have children with. You can choose your contraception. Your genitals will not be cut and you can experience pleasure. You can choose your career and where you want to pursue it. You can inherit my house when I die. You can choose where you want to live. You will discover the world.
But girls, don’t take this for granted. You are very fortunate because of where you were born.
My oldest daughter, you are two and a half today. Had you been born in Somalia, you might already have suffered irreparable damage to your genitals, you might have to leave school in seven years from now and get married in eight. That’s if you even attended school. You might be a mother of two at the age of 13. That’s if you didn’t die in childbirth or during your pregnancy. You might be raped, by your husband or by the militia, which occupy your village. You might never be able to read, write or count. Your life could be limited to the walls of the house you live in. You might never own anything else than the clothes you are wearing and when your husband dies, you might belong to his family.
My two girls, although you were born here, you will still be faced with a wealth of challenges. Next year, when you start school, when you might still prefer to play with cars, you might be pressurized into playing with dolls, prams and dress in pink. I will speak with your teachers, I will continue to buy the toys you want and dress you in trousers and I will do my best to raise awareness about stereotypes in our community.
In very few years from now, even before you reach puberty, your body will become sexualized. You might be taught that the most important thing you have is your body and that you have to be pretty. It’s not true. The most important thing you have is your brain and that’s the only thing you must use to get to where you want to be. Always.
You might meet men who believe that if you accept a drink, you agree to have sex with them. You can always say no. Even when you think it’s too late to say no. And if you are coerced into having sex with someone, you could be led to believe it’s your fault. It’s never your fault. What happened is rape, it’s a crime, it’s illegal and it’s always punishable.
You might not think that you can become a fireman, a policeman or a businessman, because a “wo” is missing from the very term. You might not believe you can become President, because no woman has yet shown the way in this country. I am optimist this will have changed in the next 10 years.
You might be taught that you should find a husband who can take care of you. Aside from your parents, no one should or could take better care of you than yourself. You might be called a “whore” just because you parked your car too close to someone else’s. You might earn less than the man next to you, who is doing the same job with the very same qualifications as you. This is called everyday sexism. I am hopeful that thanks to the actions taken today, you will be less and less confronted to such discrimination.
You might be the victim of many forms of violence and intimidation, from domestic abuse in your home, sexual assault by a stranger or a very best friend, to sexual harassment in the workplace. All those actions are criminal and punishable by law. It might seem impossible, it might be the hardest journey you will undertake, but never hesitate to seek justice. I will be there to support you.
Both of you are fortunate. Never underestimate your power to change not only things but also the world. Not only for yourself but also for other women who are not as fortunate as you.