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Today is International Day of the Girl Child. A celebration of girls the world over, this day also marks the absence of educational and other opportunities from many girls’ lives and the presence of far too much violence, from sexual assault to child marriage to hate crimes, especially for girls of color and those living in poverty.
On this very day in 2001, I was heavily pregnant with my first daughter, Mason, and living in Washington State. I, like many others, remained in a state of shock following the events of the previous month, September 11th. I remember vividly the moments each tower fell. My baby kicked hard at 10:28 a.m. on 9/11, bruising my rib, and I thought, “This is the world I’m bringing my daughter into? Holy shit.”
No wonder my due date came and went. Many weeks later, my daughter was still nestled in my womb, unwilling to come out and face the imperial music and the wrath of Shrub (Molly Ivins’s nickname for George W. Bush). It took a middle-of-the-night ferry ride, too many drugs, and an emergency cesarean section to extricate her from my body.
Of course, “9/11” as a rallying cry didn’t improve the world in any significant material way for most people. (Republican men did pretty well, as did the military-industrial complex.) Things were already dire for girls in impoverished nations, in “resource-poor” settings, in communities of color in the United States.
And life became much worse in Iraq and Afghanistan once we invaded; for example, the child mortality rate in Iraq increased more than 125%. In 2005, one in eight children died before reaching their fifth birthday. That’s 122,000 children, dead before age five.
My girls—my second daughter, Delaney, was born in 2004—are far luckier than most. We do not live in a war zone. We enjoy a decent level of economic privilege in the Global North. We are white and thus not targets of racialized state violence. I struggled as a single mom, but I’m partnered now and my daughters benefit from the proverbial “two-parent household.”
Daniel Patrick Moynihan would approve. (Not that I care.)
But my daughters are girls. And this world—this big, beautiful, imperiled world—despises girls. True, the U.N. has set aside this special day. And we talk of Girl Power and Girls Rising and Girls’ Empowerment, and we put actions behind words. We fund educational initiatives, we march, we protest, we write, we sing, and we pray for girls. These are hugely important and necessary endeavors, and thanks be to the goddess for all of this work.
Yet every day, still, the world tries to break the bodies and spirits of girls. The misogyny is relentless, and our daughters are in the maw.
So here are twelve wishes for girls, one for each year I’ve been a mother. These wishes are a love letter not just to my daughters, but to everyone’s daughters. We must embrace other people’s daughters as fully as we embrace our own, and as fully as we embrace our sons. Our very future, and theirs, depends on it.
Wish #1: That you know how beautiful you are.
Wish #2: That your body remains your own, on your own terms, always.
Wish #3: That you never question your worth. Ever.
Wish #4: That you know only love and nurture, and not hate and violence.
Wish #5: That you can be the kind of girl that you want to be, and not the kind of girls others want you to be.
Wish #6: That you can choose who to love, how to love, and even if to love—and not be punished for it.
Wish #7: That you can attend school, learn, read books, and thrive.
Wish #8: That you grow up to be exactly who you want to be.
Wish #9: That while you may bend, you never break.
Wish #10: That you experience joy, creativity, and passion throughout your life.
Wish #11: That you love and support other girls, and that they support you.
Wish #12: That your future is as wide as your imagination.
Mom (aka Monica)