I Want the Courage of a Girl
On October 26, 2012, in the Globe and Mail, I read Stephanie Nolan’s story about Pakistani girls who continue to push forward, living out their life stories, as if Malala Yousufzai was never shot for her efforts to continue her schooling and advocating for other Pakistani girls to be able to do the same.
When I read about these girls, I asked myself: Was I this courageous as a girl? I asked myself this because I do not think that I am this courageous now. I don’t know if I could continue to do what I believed was right if my own safety was compromised and I am certain that I couldn’t if I believed that the safety of my family or my friends was at risk.
Still, I want to do all that I can for these girls but what can I do from my comfortable home and life?
For all of us with comfortable lives, the first thing we inevitably think of doing is a highly North American response: we give money. We all do this, when natural disasters strike, when people are left exiled or homeless, we sign onto the Red Cross or Unicef websites and send money. This is not futile – it’s actually helpful since these agencies do, in fact, provide relief – but, let’s face it, this is not an action that requires much courage.
What does require courage in Canada today?
Think about the most controversial topics in Canada in your world. In the world of adolescent health, a woman’s right to choose when to have a child, bullying, or sexual orientation are all controversial. Google any of these topics and you will find that girls are speaking out – often with terrifying consequences – in Canada. A girl who becomes pregnant realizes how much that could affect her future: studies confirm that girls with access to family planning are more likely to complete their education while girls who do not will likely be poor all their lives. Melinda Gates has developed a plan to raise awareness and provide funding for contraception.(www.gatesfoundation.org) Access to safe abortion is an essential part of family planning and those of us who believe that girls and women must have safe, confidential access to all family planning are facing a great deal of censure in Canada today.
As for bullying, in my child psychiatry practice in Ottawa, bullying has become a major source of symptoms. Amanda Todd took her own life in response to being hounded online and hers is not an isolated occurrence. In Ottawa, a young man, Jamie Hubley, resorted to suicide as well after being bullied for his homosexuality.
Since the adults are not looking out for them, girls – and boys – are looking out for themselves, often with terrifying consequences, even in Canada. I want to be as courageous as they are, but I even fret about what I say in the two paragraphs above. These are topics that are polarizing and draw censure. Who needs censure?
I want the courage of a girl.