If asked where our country ranks when it comes to caring for our women, I probably would have guessed pretty high. I might have even guessed that we were one of the top countries for female empowerment in the world.
But I would have been wrong.
I am the mother of two boys — two crazy talented and totally different boys. One is a musician and the other, an athlete. Right now, both of my boys are taking the steps to chase their dreams, and why shouldn’t they? They are surrounded by the support and the resources they need to pursue success.
My upbringing was pretty similar. From an early age, my father involved me in his work with World Help, the humanitarian aid nonprofit where I am now president. I grew up surrounded by people who encouraged my passion and my work ethic. To this day, my parents, my husband, and the important people in my life truly believe that I am the woman for this job.
But so many girls are not that lucky, and it’s not just because of poverty. Over the years, I’ve traveled to India, Thailand, and many other countries. I’ve seen the effect that extreme poverty has on women — the way it strips them of their ability to gain an education or to dream of a life outside of the slums. But as it turns out, I don’t have to travel far to meet girls who are being limited by their society.
I just have to look at the girls I pass while I drive to work or on a quick trip to Target.
Every year, the World Economic Forum produces a Global Gender Gap Report. The report takes a close look at most of the world’s countries and ranks them according to their opportunities for women. They examine pay ratios, the number of women in government or in upper management jobs at major corporations, non-discrimination laws, education, maternal health care, and many other factors, and report the results.
In 2018, the Forum took a look at 149 countries. Falling at number 51, the United States didn’t even crack the top third of the list. Sure, it was close, but I was shocked by how far down our country was listed.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been. Since the early 1900s, women have been fighting for equal rights when it comes to jobs, pay, representation, and education. And we’ve come a long way! But we still have a long way to go. Out of the 149 countries studied, only 17 currently have women acting as heads of state. Women also hold only 34 percent of managerial positions.
Some countries are doing better than others. Iceland has been at the top of this list for years. In 1850, it became the first country to give equal inheritance rights to women. And in 1975, a national protest led to the country’s parliament passing a law that guaranteed equal pay for men and women.
But what about our country? Why, after so many years, are women still struggling with these issues? Well, it starts when they are young.
One study revealed that by the age of 6, many girls already consider boys more likely to show brilliance and more suited to “really, really smart” activities than their own gender. This breaks my heart. Over the years, I have had the privilege to work with women around the world. These women are strong, smart, passionate, and creative, and it is devastating to think that girls are growing up in environments where they are told that they are less than ideal — simply because of their gender.
That is why today matters so much to me. On Oct. 11, we observe International Day of the Girl Child and take time to celebrate the female leaders of tomorrow. According to the United Nations, which first established this day, a quarter of the world’s young people are neither employed nor gaining an education or training. Most of those young people are girls.
But thankfully, that’s not stopping them — and that’s what the Day of the Girl Child is all about. Today, young girls are challenging the status quo, fighting against the belief that their gender can determine their success.
Take a moment today to cheer on the girls in your life, and to let them know that they aren’t fighting to break that glass ceiling alone.
Noel Yeatts is an active advocate for social justice and humanitarian needs around the world. With over 20 years of experience in humanitarian work, Noel is an author, speaker, and the President of World Help, an international, Christian humanitarian organization serving the physical and spiritual needs of impoverished communities around the world. Noel regularly takes the stage for speaking engagements and advocacy events around the country and has been widely recognized for her groundbreaking book, “Awake: Doing a World of Good One Person at a Time.” To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.