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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 5/24/2014

COMMENTARY

Give thanks for a land where it’s normal for girls to go to school

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST
Johanek Johanek
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By an accident of fate, I was born in the United States. I could just as well have been born in Pakistan or Nigeria or any other Third World country where suffering and oppression are a way of life.

It’s impossible for a lifelong American to fathom what passes for existence a plane flight away. I grew up with the benefit of middle-class amenities in a household that valued education regardless of gender.

My mother was college educated, not the norm for women of her generation. Her immigrant parents were adamant that their daughters would receive a higher education, even if they graduated right to marriage and full-time motherhood.

They knew that the more their girls learned, the better prepared they would be to raise strong families that raised stronger families. Women mold generations that shape society.

My mother went on to law school, became a practicing attorney, and ran a large nonprofit organization. But first, she made sure her children were educated and driven to keep learning.

For the most part, made-in-America moms call the shots in their family, school, and community. They get things done, apply pressure when needed, expect nothing less than the best, and never stop believing the sky’s the limit for their children.

They struggle, scrounge, and sacrifice so their daughters and sons can become whatever they dream of being. Through challenges and setbacks, mothers keep the faith.

They are adamant that their girls not settle for the status quo. Hard work invites success. Go break some glass ceilings.

Yet around the world, girls are struggling to be seen, let alone heard. Shrouded women fear retaliation and worse for anything but strict adherence to male domination.

Female students are shot for daring to seek an education. Girls are rounded up in mass abductions from school. The warning is clear to those who are foolish enough to follow suit.

Anguished mothers have no idea whether almost 280 Nigerian schoolgirls, kidnapped more than a month ago by Islamic militants, are dead or alive.

A recovering Pakistani teenager, shot for simply wanting girls to go to school, pleads for the safe return of her sister students.

Slowly, through the contagious effect of social media, the rest of the planet has been awakened to the nightmare that girls and women are living in parts of the world because they were born female. Gradually, the voice of women, fighting the brutal oppression of tribal norms, is heard around the globe.

Activists from the #BringBackOurGirls group aim to keep international heat on Nigeria, and encourage western help to find and free the captive girls and crush a threatening insurgency. But as the hostage crisis drags on, the likelihood of a happy ending diminishes.

We’re connected by a click on the Internet to a primitive world that couldn’t be more different from the American experience. Yes, we’re accustomed to violence in this country, where even our schools endure bloodshed too frequently. But we can’t fathom the kind of sustained horror that rocks other homelands.

We don’t live in a state of constant worry about the next explosion, random abduction, or mass execution. We don’t brace for daily bombings and imminent death. We don’t fear violent retribution for sending our daughters to school.

Gender equality is a quest of American women who are fighting for equal footing under male management. Liberty and justice for all are a work in progress.

But freedom and fairness remain bedrock ambitions in the United States. They are the ideals Americans have died for and remain willing to defend to the death.

On this Memorial Day weekend, be grateful for what we take for granted. Embrace the differences and diversity of the nation as vital clinical trials in democracy.

Reflect on the accident of fate that allowed you to be born in a combat-free zone, with inalienable rights and founding truths that we hold to be self-evident.

And hug a remarkable, resilient, strong daughter who is growing up in America. Cheer her successes in school, sports, and life.

Recognize that, like her mother and grandmother before her, she represents the power and promise to change the world.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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