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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.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »

Comments

Umaiyal's picture

Sexual harassment is ubiquitous...

Dear Vibeka,
An amazing comparison about a woman's life in developing country and developed country. Though the so called first world have proper health care system, education system and child rights, your writing highlights that sexual harassment and female stereotypes are ubiquitous, and hard to eliminate from the society immediately.
You are such a good role model to other mothers who are afraid of breaking social norms and stereotypes.

Thank you for creating awareness through story telling technique... Excellent job!

Regards,
Umaiyal

Vibeke's picture

Dear Umaiyal, Thank you for

Dear Umaiyal,

Thank you for your kind words and comments!

Best

Vibeke

Lea's picture

Great essay!

Dear Vibeke,

This is a wonderful and thoughtfully written essay. As Umaiyal stated, quite rightly, it does a fantastic job of comparing women's situation in developed and developing countries. While women in certain developed countries have more rights and better access to education and health services, this does not diminish the fact that they are constantly faced with sexual discrimination, prejudice, and sexual harassment on a daily basis. Let us also not forget violence against women in the form of rape or abuse which, unfortunately, is still very much present in those societies.
Your daughters are very fortunate to have such a caring and compassionate mother like you who will not allow them to be belittled because of their gender. By reminding them of the importance of speaking out for women worldwide and by raising their awareness of the plight of women in other countries, in particular in Somalia, and by supporting their life choices, you are empowering them and showing what a great role model you are!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!
Lea

Vibeke's picture

Thanks for your comment Lea.

Thanks for your comment Lea. Indeed, there is still work to be done, even in "developed countries" to further women's rights!

LeenieT's picture

Honest and Empowering

Dear Vibeke,

Your wisdom of experience shines through this letter, and the only judgements you make are of society's confining structures. You are supportive, do not attempt to blind your daughters of the realities they may face, but empower them with this knowledge despite it's often disappointing and scary nature, and open up an opportunity for them to join you in changing the status quo in a subtle, yet powerful way.

Some parents prefer to protect their children from the realities they will have to face as long as possible. This may come at a cost of having them be blindsided, under-equipped and feeling alone when presented with a struggle. As you model in your letter, it is important to be honest with children from a young age about the inequities that they and others may face, and present opportunities for them to challenge them. In light of the darkness, your letter is one of hope. I love how you start it out by reminding your daughters what they should be grateful for. All of us need that reminder. You also make it clear your daughters will not be alone in navigating their paths...how empowering for them.

Beautifully written, thank you for sharing!

All the best to you and your lucky daughters,

Lena

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