Invest in Girls for Long-term ROI

PDF - The Girl Declaration - #GirlDeclarationToday is International Day of the Girl Child and I’m working from home with a sick girl of my own. Luckily, she’s only dealing with seasonal allergies, not recovering from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). And she’ll only miss one day of school, rather than being taken completely out of school at her ripe old age of eleven to be a child bride.

Sound extreme? It’s not in many places around the world.

Globally, it is estimated that between 100 and 140 million girls and women have experienced some form of FGM, and that every year about three million girls, most younger than 12, are at risk of undergoing this dangerous procedure.

A CNN story today reports that in Pakistan, almost one-fourth of the country’s girls find themselves in unions or marriages by age 18. And, India has more child brides than any other country in the world, with 47 percent of all of the country’s more than 600 million girls married before their 18th birthday.

So what? So, moving beyond the emotional element of such statistics, think of the economic impact.

In India, adolescent pregnancy results in nearly $10 billion in lost potential income, according to statistics from The Girl Effect. In Uganda, 85 percent of girls leave school early, resulting in $10 billion in lost potential earnings. By delaying child marriage and early birth for one million girls, Bangladesh could potentially add $69 billion to the national income over these girls’ lifetimes.

Yet, girls were left out when the UN was drafting their Millennium Development Goals that are meant to form a blueprint to meet the needs of the world’s poorest. So today, girls from Egypt, Burkina Faso and Nepal presented the Girl Declaration to the UN.

If I’d been at my office today, I’m proud to say I would have seen a screening of the film “Girl Rising” compliments of Dell’s support. To help “Pay it Forward” they are encouraging employees to contribute to girl-related causes during the month of October. By leveraging the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network of 10,000 women around the world, and employees like me, Dell hopes to track support for 1 million females by the end of 2015.

What can you do? Even though this day is almost over, you can keep the momentum going. You can sign in support of the Girl Declaration. You can host your own screening of “Girl Rising.” Or, here are 11 other ideas for action.

Improving girls’ health and education helps us all because they will play a crucial role in solving the world’s problems.

Do something.


Be a Reading Rebel during Banned Books Week

If you’ve read my blog for very long you know every year I write about Banned Books Week. (And I owe you a big THANK YOU for sticking around here with me all these years!)

Why write about this annual event that celebrates the freedom we have to read in the United States? Because I feel strongly that reading is essential to learning and learning is essential to improving so many of the things that ail our world.

It certainly can’t cure everything. And reading some things could actually perpetuate wrong ideas.

The key here I think is reading outside of your comfort zone. Something I worry about as more and more of the content we read online becomes filtered to show us only things related to other things we’ve shown interest in before. Something Eli Pariser termed living in “filter bubbles” in his TED talk.

Facebook doesn’t mean to make us narrow-minded, they just want to offer us a product that we’ll like and continue to consume. But I think we expect more from our public and school libraries, and in their world even today there remain attempts by well-meaning individuals to filter the content we can read.

Just look to recent headlines for proof, as a county board of education in North Carolina recently voted to ban the 1952 book Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison because a parent felt it was “too much for teenagers.”

Apparently, they can’t handle the topics it addresses which according to Wikipedia are “the social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans early in the twentieth century, including black nationalism, the relationship between black identity and Marxism, and the reformist racial policies of Booker T. Washington, as well as issues of individuality and personal identity.”

I must admit I was not familiar with this novel that spent 16 weeks on the bestseller list and won the National Book Award for fiction before I was born. But, thanks to the freedom I have to read (and the ease of “1-Click” downloads from Amazon to my Kindle), I’m about to fix that.

Just getting started with the author’s introduction to the 30th anniversary edition yesterday, I’ve already begun to highlight sections that made me pause and think:

I’m looking forward to being a reading rebel and highlighting more interesting points of view that can expand my own.

Why don’t you join me this week in reading something someone has protested? To help you get started, the American Library Association has compiled a list of the most-challenged titles of 2012.

The Captain Underpants series was #1 last year!


UPDATE 9/26/13: (Reuters) – A North Carolina school board lifted on Wednesday its ban of Ralph Ellison’s classic novel “Invisible Man” from school libraries after being ridiculed by residents and undercut by a giveaway of the book at a local bookstore.

Let’s hear it for the prevailing of good sense!


Blog Action Day: The Power of We – The Power of Girls

The year of the girl. The day of the girl. There’s a lot of attention to girls lately, isn’t there?

On this Blog Action Day 2012, it all reminds me of my post from Blog Action Day 2008. That’s when I first became aware of The Girl Effect and I think the fact that we’re talking so much about girls these days is in part due to their efforts and “The Power of We” that serves as this year’s Blog Action Day theme.Blog Action Day

The power we have when we help girls get an education, stay healthy, marry when they’re ready and raise a healthy family is the power to end the cycle of poverty. The Girl Effect is global. It works in African villages and it works in urban centers.

Look no further than today’s news headlines to see how powerful girls can be – one 14 year old can strike fear in a group as powerful as the Taliban. Why? Because she advocated for girls’ education and they recognize the impact that can have.

The booklet “Smarter Economics: Investing in Girls” uses findings from the 2012 World Development Report and other sources to show how the simple act of adding girls to development plans delivers a huge economic upside and breaks the cycle of intergenerational poverty. For instance, girls completing secondary school in Kenya would add US$27 billion to the economy over their lifetimes

But it’s not just about developing countries. Everywhere we have the power to impact girls and, in turn, impact our world. Because as the Girl Scouts know, when girls succeed, so does society.

Women, Work and Family = The Enjoli Woman Venn Diagram

Warning: Anyone reading this that was born after 1980 might not understand the humor.

I saw all the uproar over Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent Atlantic Monthly cover story “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” but mostly avoided reading much of it. It’s not a new topic (I touched on it back in 2008  in the first month I started this blog) and I wasn’t sure I had the energy for the debate. However, this week I went back and pulled up the original to take a look with new eyes.

What prompted me to do this was the email from my summer sitter saying she was heading off to college earlier than planned. This coming just a week after my husband had his second surgery in two months. While the two weeks notice came with an alternate plan, so myself and the other moms who share the sitter weren’t left in the lurch with another month before school starts, it did prompt me to reassess my family’s needs.

So, after several days of reading – hey, it’s more than an article, it’s like a freaking dissertation and all moms know how hard it is to find a large chunk of free, uninterrupted time to just read – I finally finished it today.

It’s definitely not as inflammatory as I thought it would be by the headline and the level of noise it created. Many parts had me shaking my head YES, rather than shaking it in sadness.

But rather than go through it point-by-point or try to give you the Cliff Notes, what hit me as I mulled it over in the shower this morning was a more humorous take.

Anyone familiar with project management, software development or graphic design will have encountered by now the famous Project Management Triangle – which tells us that while we may all want something done good, fast and cheap, we can really only get two out of three.

So today I bring you the Enjoli Woman Venn Diagram – ta da!Women-Can’t-Have-It-All_Enjoli-Woman-Venn-Diagram

I was about the same age my daughter is now when that commercial came out and it definitely influenced my ideas about what I should be when I grew up. Was I sold a bill of goods?

Maybe. But, I don’t think we just give up. Instead we all need to adjust. This statement from Anne-Marie Slaughter’s story put it well, I think:

“If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal.”

That doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t even happen in a generation or two. But, I still hold out hope that my daughter’s generation might realize it.

A Lamentation for Civil Discourse – The Dangerous Mix of Politics and Social Media

On this Fourth of July – Independence Day for us in the United States – I pause to contemplate how social media and has impacted Americans’ political discourse.

Unless you do not have a Facebook account, you have doubtless seen a side you hadn’t seen before of some your friends.  As many as 51 percent of social media users have posted political messages on their Facebook wall.

Why? If they’re hoping to persuade others to their opinion, it isn’t working. Only about one-third (36 percent) of social media users have changed their mind on an issue based on the political content a friend posted.

I enjoy a good debate, so I haven’t always stuck tho the old adage that we should avoid politics, or religion, in polite conversation. But it seems the “polite” part of the conversation has been lost. A debate, by definition, follows parliamentary procedure which is “based on the consideration [my emphasis] of the rights: of the majority, of the minority (especially a large minority greater than one-third), of individual members, of absentee members, of all of these groups taken together.”

I come at this topic today from a very personal point of view. Almost exactly a year ago, someone very close to me had the expression of political viewpoints come between them and a close friend. Because of the inability to respect differing opinions, and the inability to keep opinions out of conversation or within the some sort of rules of order, nearly 50 years of friendship was torn apart. A recent attempt at reconciliation clearly showed one of the two had no room for differing opinions in their life. Being caught up in it feels very much like being in this opening scene from the new series “Newsroom.”

How can we as a nation celebrating our independence today ever hope to change the statistics he quotes in that clip when we spend so much energy fighting each other? We must work together at some point. Someone must compromise.

Without staunch environmentalists, our planet could fall to ruin; but, without the equally fervent pro-development people, we might fall behind in business. Those of us in the large middle desperately do need those on the edges to shake us out of doldrums. But, we also need them to come together at some point in order to ever more forward.

Social media has made it all that much easier to broadcast our beliefs, but I don’t think it’s brought us much in the way of civil discourse.

Back across the pond from whence our founding fathers came, someone is trying to put some order to online debates. Politician Louise Mensch has created what she hopes is a rival to Twitter that aims to “cut out the irrelevant chatter that she says blights the microblogging site.

“We want to encourage people to have conversations rather than broadcast their thoughts,” said her co-founder Luke Bozier.

Interestingly enough, they first launched it only in the U.S., later opening it for users in the UK. Menshn may turn out to be, as Danny Brown says, a non-starter.  I signed up and noticed how quickly the spammers showed up, as well.  But, I do applaud someone for at least trying.

My plea today is for my fellow social media users, and Americans online or offline, to step beyond simply broadcasting vitriolic  messages, alienating anyone who doesn’t share your opinions and reading or listening to only those who say the things you like.

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Would You Encourage Your Child Break the Law?

On first look, the headline of this post may seem like a black & white answer, but it’s really a loaded question according to some of the latest research released by social media scholar, youth researcher & advocate danah boyd.
Unintended consequences of the ‘Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

The recent release of  “Unintended consequences of the ‘Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act‘” by boyd, Eszter Hargittai, Jason Schultz and John Palfrey generated a lot of interest.

The blog All Facebook said that doing so was maybe “not as bad as parents buying beer for their kids under age 21 or cigarettes for those under 18,” but all three do require parents displaying a lack of respect for rules to the children they expect to follow their rules.

One commenter on that blog asked “how else are they going to stay in touch with their friends in this digital age?” Several others felt it was OK if they were actively monitoring their child’s site and had the account password (as if that couldn’t be changed when the kid decided to lock mom out).

But another raised a great point: “While I know that it seems safe to have a child on facebook and parents say they are monitoring their childs FB …I don’t know how many are ACTUALLY doing it. Or how many know how to effectively protect their child on facebook.”

This one, however, is the comment I think gets back to how grey the answer is to the seemingly black & white question I posed: “I have never thought about if i would break similar age rules in other areas. In almost every other area i would never even think about breaking the rules. Interesting why it’s ok with me with facebook… ”

So what rule is being broken? Well, there are really a couple of them. First is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mentioned in the research. This Act became effective back in April 2000 and is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
It basically says that if a website has visitors under 13 and collects any information from them it must use “reasonable procedures” to ensure they are getting permission from the child’s parent. These procedures may include:

  • obtaining a signed form from the parent via postal mail or facsimile;
  • accepting and verifying a credit card number;
  • taking calls from parents on a toll-free telephone number staffed by trained personnel;
  • email accompanied by digital signature;
  • email accompanied by a PIN or password obtained through one of the verification methods above.

All of those, however, require a certain amount of administration and personnel to manage that many social media outlets do not have or want to hire to make sure all the kids under 13 have parental permission. That’s why sites like Facebook simply say they don’t allow anyone under 13 on them.

And that is the second rule being deliberately broken by 68 percent of those surveyed in the research that reported their child joined Facebook before the age of 13.

It’s worth noting that this research was supported by Microsoft Research. This gives Digital Democracy the feeling that “this study is an industry-funded attack against the current FTC proceedings that will ensure that children cannot be targeted via mobile and location data services or be the victims of companies engaged in behavioral targeting.”

But, whether you are for or against COPPA, the fact that half (55%) of parents of 12-year-olds reported their child has a Facebook account, most (82%) knew when their child signed up, and most (76%) also assisted their 12-year old in creating the account should make you stop and ponder.

My own nine-year-old girl has friends who already have Facebook pages, so I’ve faced the request join those numbers. My stance is that the rule is 13, so not until she’s 13. Not to cast any stones at others, but simply because I want to set an example for her to follow rules.

Even though that’s my current position, we’ve still already had frequent talks about what she should or shouldn’t share online. Those who remember when the two of us were touring kids virtual worlds will know why. Although many protections are in place and as much as I try to monitor (like many parents of young Facebookers), I know I can’t always be there, so talking early and often is my plan.

What’s your plan for preparing your kids for online interactions? All suggestions welcome!

Little Pink Roses – It’s Just So Wrong

Angel statue with pink roseI’ve never seen a casket so small.

The spray of little pink roses and – Baby’s Breath – nearly covers the entire length.

It only takes one man to lift it when the memorial service ends.

It’s all just so wrong.

Today, we buried Adelaide Elizabeth Curless, three month old daughter of my dear friend Kim who stood as maid of honor at my wedding. Her twin brother Jacob will probably always feel her absence more than anyone else understands.

It’s all just so wrong.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is described as the unexpected, sudden death of a child under age 1 in which an autopsy does not show an explainable cause of death. How is it, that with all our advances in science and medicine we still have unexplainable deaths?

It’s all just so wrong.

Not only do we need more research on this, we need the proper resources to assist families dealing with the aftermath. If you’d like to help, please make a donation in Adelaide’s memory.

Image via Creative Commons by Glenn Scott

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Say Thanks Today – Share Thanks Tomorrow

I really should be better about counting my blessings. I admire Grace McDunnough’s discipline to maintain her Three Thanks A Week blog.  But, at least there’s one day a year here in the U.S. where we all stop to give thanks.

Thanksgiving can get caught up in Pilgrims and turkeys, football and family, but I think most of us do take a few moments to think about what we have to be thankful for – at least many today in my Twitterstream and Facebook newsfeed have been.

Some relate to current events. I know I am thankful that I live within a day’s driving distance of my family so that I can enjoy this holiday with them without worrying about getting felt up before getting on an airplane.

And, I am thankful for the freedom to write whatever I want here and tweet or retweet whatever I want on Twitter and not have to worry that it will get me a year in prison.

I am thankful that despite the drug violence that plagues much of my country’s border, our neighbors are not sending missiles our way. My daughter does not have to worry if she’ll make it to school and back alive.

Think that’s a bit dramatic? Take a moment to watch this video.

My girl and I have been filling shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse for several years now, but I never thought of the impact that an actual pair of shoes in one might make.

I hope that as you count your blessings today, you’ll think about sharing some of your good fortune by helping others. Make it personal. If you’re thankful for your meal, support your local food bank. If you’re thankful for your education, help out at a school or donate to a scholarship. If you’re thankful for your health, donate funds to research or visit someone who could use the company in a hospital. If you’re thankful for your pets, buy an extra bag of food next time to give to a shelter.

The point is, don’t just say thanks today – share thanks tomorrow.

Privacy = Control: danah boyd Challenges Assumptions at SXSW

This is a story about control, my control
Control of what I say, control of what I do
And this time I’m gonna do it my way
-Janet Jackson

One of the best things you can take away from listening to someone speak is a new way of looking at the world. A challenge to your assumptions is the the path to real learning.

I thought I had a pretty good knowledge of online privacy issues. I also thought I’d read enough from researcher danah boyd that I didn’t really need to go listen to her keynote presentation at SXSWi. I was wrong. 

For example, I’d never thought before about the difference between having someone ask you “ASL?” (age/sex/location) in a chat room, and having them go look up all that same information on you in an online profile. I would have thought someone asking me that in chat would be creepy, but now that I really think about it, it’s a little creepier when someone goes and finds those things out without asking you.

And that’s the point danah was making – that privacy is not just about how much of our information is out there, but rather about how much we feel in control of the release of our information. If people feel they don’t have control, they feel violated.
Control button on keyboard
“Neither privacy nor publicity is dead, but technology will make a mess of both,” boyd said.

Her rapid-fire speech was packed with great insight and I walked away realizing that I needed to challenge some of my own assumptions on the topic. One of the most interesting statistics I took away was around Facebook’s recent change to their privacy defaults. After the change, which rankled many, Facebook proudly told the FTC in December that about 40 percent of 220 million users made adjustments to their settings. That means however, as danah pointed out, about 262 million Facebook users made no change and all of their information defaulted to the most public settings.

That probably includes many of our spouses, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, and even grandmothers.

But it’s not just Facebook that’s made recent privacy blunders. danah spent much of her time talking about what Google did wrong with their launch of Google Buzz.

GigaOM reported afterwards that Buzz product manager Todd Jackson attended Boyd’s talk and found it “extremely insightful, fair and something we could work from.” He said he personally emailed Boyd afterwards and invited her to deliver the same talk at Google.

That makes me hopeful that many of the other technology companies at SXSWi heard danah when she said “How you handle the challenges of privacy . . . will affect a generation. Make sure you are creating a world you want to live in.”

Hopeful, but still cautious, that is. And mindful that those of us who are privileged enough (yes, privileged, unlike danah’s examples of illegal immigrants or abuse victims) to be able to live our lives in public need to do our part to educate our friends and families on how they can take control of their information online.

And so, I leave you here with a little more musical flashback from someone who definitely knows what it means to live your life in public.

Got my own mind
I wanna make my own decisions
When it has to do with my life, my life
I wanna be the one in control
-Janet Jackson

Image credit: / CC BY 2.0

Do We Really Need an International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day logoThere are only a couple of hours left in International Women’s Day(IWD) as I sit down to write this post.

I’d like to say I’m so behind because I was out doing something amazing like those on this list of 100 women who changed the world, but I was just making my way through an average day.

An average day where I enjoyed the freedom to drive  to my job outside the home that pays me as well as my husband was paid in his last job. The job he left to spend the past year taking care of our daughter and our household. I came home to spend the evening relaxing and watching Chuck on television with that daughter who receives a great education in our public school system.

A girl being educated. A man taking responsibility for helping to raise her while his wife works. A woman being paid as much as a man for equal work. All these are things I enjoy without thinking that much about it. So, it’s easy to wonder if we really need a day to press for equality and other women’s issues.

I can agree with much that this woman who’s name I can’t find on her opinion piece on IWD in Rwanda:

Now that most countries have come round to develope enabling policies and programs, more effort should be put into getting men to understand and appreciate this drive, as opposed to pushing it down their throats through affirmative action-one reason why, at the mention of the word gender, everyone automatically starts thinking ‘women’.

I mean, do we really need someone to give flowers to the Spanish Equality Minister once a year just because she’s a woman?

No, we do not. But, as long as there are places where girl’s aren’t receiving an education just because they’re girls. Or they’re being married off at age 10 and having their genitals mutilated (two of the women’s stories highlighted by Huffington Post today). Or women aren’t allowed to even drive, much less to a job. Or, women aren’t being compensated equal to men for equal work at that job.

Then we still have work to do and a special day to remind us of that every year is a good thing.