Today is International Day of the Girl Child and I want to pen a missive directly to each and every Barbadian girl. Oftentimes, in public discourse, we talk about youth. We talk around them and due to the gender equalities that condition every element of the life of girls and women, this is especially true of how we treat girls in the Barbadian space. This Day of the Girl Child, I want to take the time to say a few things to my younger sisters – perhaps in a way no one took the time to say them to me.
Reading is education and liberation all in itself. I hope every little girl finds time to read and a safe space to enjoy the pastime. A book is always the perfect gift and I hope those of us shaping young female lives give books liberally. Not just fairy tales but books about female warriors, engineers, single women and child advocates.
Do the things you love
Use your girlhood to play and skip. Do your chores and pay attention to schoolwork. Life is not always fair and I know the burdens can be painful and silent as a girl child. They never are the sum of who you are and who you become. Keep your head up. Be the best you can and never ever lose hope.
Never choose silence because of discomfort
Use your voice to protect you and to voice your opinion. It will not always be comfortable but it is always the right choice. Do not allow anyone to cower you into silence and do not allow anyone to use respectability or ‘time and place’ to hinder you from telling your truth.
You are beautiful as a human being
Your beauty is not in the parts of you that make you a girl. Your beauty is in the fact that you are a part of the human race with a contribution to make and kindness and grace to receive and share. Anybody that can only see your beauty in the size of your breasts or the shape of your hips does not understand the essence of you and will bring hurt to your life. Take the time to grow in your own presence and be comfortable as a singular, special human entity.
Beauty changes with time
If we are ever prepared for any stage in our lives, it is perhaps puberty – and even then, the things that we are told are segmented and piecemeal. There are many stages of womanhood past puberty and there is beauty in all of them. However, the cameras and the images only show us one type of beauty. That beauty is slim and firm and youthful. It is only one type of beauty. As I move through my own beauty, I notice the changes and I wished somebody had given me permission and prepared me.
Show up independent
In order to get the best out of an intimate relationship, you need a good education and your own money. My granny always used to say, “Mother got, father got, blessed is the child that has his own.” That kernel has served me so well, time and time again. The point is that when you can provide your own basic wants and needs you come to the table with bargaining power. That power saves you from losing your pride and value. There is nothing wrong with hard and honest work and transactional sex can never replace the drive to become a whole and self-sufficient human being.
Learn to be alone
Many of us grow up in households around our parents, siblings and extended family. Society still tells us that we need to leave that unit and find an intimate relationship, get married and have children. What we need to do as women and girls is to take care of ourselves as individuals. Please do not have a child until you are mature enough to mother one. This is not a fixed age. For some people, it is as early as 20; for others, it is as late as 43. Do not get into an intimate relationship until you know yourself as a person; until you are strong enough to love and lose and love again. Do not go into any relationship, not even motherhood, until you have spent enough time with yourself as an individual.
Never mix sex and work
When you get old enough to get a job, try hard to keep your sex life and work-life separate. Men sometimes have a hard time differentiating the multiple facets of a woman. Sometimes when a man becomes intimate with you it diminishes his ability to respect you in other roles. Try to ensure that you can be respected at your workplace for your skill and adeptness at your duties.
Have a great day of whatever makes you happy. I look forward to seeing all the girls in Barbados at the screening of “Girls Rising” at the Olympus theatre on Sunday. I am happy to move around and make space for my younger sisters’ girl force as a safe and encouraging female elder. I affirm you, young sister.
Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women.