“Because I am a girl – I am less likely to go to school.
Because I am a girl – I am more likely to suffer from malnutrition.
Because I am a girl – I am more likely to suffer violence in the home.
Because I am a girl – I am more likely to marry and start a family before I reach my twenties.
Seven authors have visited seven different countries and spoken to young women and girls about their lives, struggles and hopes. The result is an extraordinary collection of writings about prejudice, abuse, and neglect, but also about courage, resilience and changing attitudes. Proceeds from sales of this book will go to PLAN, one of the world’s largest child-centered community development organisations.”
And last week I attended the very moving launch of the “Because I Am A Girl” book at Waterstones in Piccadilly. I bought four copies and have since read my own copy twice. From my time in corporate life, I know how powerful story telling can be as a way to get a message across; this collection of stories (which are both fiction and non-fiction) is part of Plan’s campaign to raise awareness and break the cycle of poverty which so impacts women, by educating girls and investing in women. As Marie Staunton, Plan’s Chief Executive, said at the launch event:
“Girls are often invisible in the developing world – and because they’re not valued, they don’t feel valued. They’re less likely to go to school than boys, more likely to experience violence, poverty and sexual abuse …”
The stories are set in Togo, Sierra Leone, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Ghana, Uganda and Cambodia and the book features contributions from renowned authors such as Kathy Lette, Deborah Moggach (who were both at the launch, and who signed my copies of the book), Irvine Welsh and Joanne Harris. As well as Marie’s very moving descriptions of Plan’s work, we were also able to hear Kathy and Deborah reading extracts from their stories. Actors and Plan supporters Larry Lamb (who had just returned to the UK from a week in Senegal for Plan; the next evening I saw him on TV at the National Television Awards … talk about a diverse life …) and Joanne Froggatt read from the stories set in Togo and Santa Domingo in the DR.
Here’s an extract from Kathy Lette’s story about her trip to Brazil:
“I wanted to tell the story of one girl. But all the girls I met – Maria, Jeanine, Rosana, Lorena, Amanda, Marina, Cintia, Melissa, Nataly, Teresa, Ana and Johanna – had the same sad tale. It’s a story of child prostitution, teenage pregnancy, HIV, no contraception, illegal back-street abortion, sex tourism, single mothers, macho men, irresponsible, absentee fathers and domestic violence.”
The book also features, as the other non-fiction contribution, a very damning piece from Marie Phillips (author of “Gods Behaving Badly”, a really wonderful novel) based on her visit to Uganda and her shock at how the responsibility for sexual abuse is placed on girls and not their attackers. I think this was a brave stance for Plan to take, in terms of including it in the anthology; I’m sure it would have been easier to leave it out, or ask Marie to re-visit her article and change the focus. Instead, it is included, as is a piece from Plan’s Uganda Country Manager, explaining why Plan takes the stance that they do and what impact this having for girls in the country to date.
At the end of the readings, we had an opportunity to ask questions and an audience member asked Marie Staunton how she would spend £10,000 and make a difference. Looking a little taken aback, she immediately passed the question over to two of her team, the Plan Country Managers for India and Uganda, who both replied that they would like to spend such money on extra, separate toilet facilities for schools, as the lack of toilets is often an issue for girls, especially when menstruating; the Uganda manager also told us that many schools in her country are boarding schools in remote rural areas and so she would like more money to spend on bicycles to make it easier for girls to actually get to the schools or home to visit their families.
Publishers Random House are donating all of the book’s profits to Plan – so please, buy a copy today (Amazon have it at a substantial discount, and it’s also currently included in Waterstones “3 for 2” promotion). Together, we can make a difference to girls around the world.