The Girl Effect and My Grandmother


I've been thinking a lot about loss lately. Not the kind where you have something and then lose it: but the kind where you never really have it at all.

Before I was three years old, my grandmother Auden passed away in her sleep from a heart attack. Oct. 15th was the 22nd anniversary of our loss.

John Irving describes the absence well in his novel A Prayer For Owen Meany:

When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time.... Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes -- when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever -- there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.

The agony of these missing parts applies not only to our deceased loved ones -- it applies to when we allow fear to dampen courage; ignorance to imprison knowledge; and hatred to overwhelm love.


The recent milestones in the movement for girls' education have been on my mind and in my heart as well: Malala Yousafzai's selection to receive the Nobel Peace Prize; the third annual International Day of the Girl; the potential resolution of the Boko Haram kidnappings after six months of ceaseless effort to #BringBackOurGirls.

To me, October's triumphs and pain are deeply connected.

Although my time with her here was too brief, Auden still guides me. Indeed she has shaped immeasurable lives through her calling as a teacher, through her love for her family and friends.

We must take compassionate, wise, and meaningful action to prevent girls from losing their voices and to help them share their callings and their love with the world.

Urgency and Courage

We know enough about the power of the girl effect -- the high, multifaceted return on investing in girls and the spiraling intergenerational costs of not doing so -- to know we need to do more.

We know enough about the power of the girl effect to know that we don't know the value that is lost when we let the light fade from a young girl's smiling eyes.

We know enough to know that we don't know the true price we pay each day for absences of robust, timely action. For the instances where children are still being forced into marriage, where girls are still endangered by FGM, where the shadows of violence still impose barriers to education.

We know enough about the power of the girl effect to know we do not suffer these losses all at once. We lose out on healthy families, economic growth, environmental sustainability, resilient communities, lasting peace, and lives filled with dignity and joy and freedom -- all these potential gifts we lose in pieces over a long time.

We know enough to know this is where the spark can be snuffed out -- or where it can rise into a brilliant blaze. We control our destiny when we take responsibility for our choices. We know enough to know that the effort is worth it.

Much progress has been made, but much remains to be done. The milestones we have achieved this month should fill us both with greater optimism and renewed urgency. This challenge can be conquered. The time is now.

A Real Beauty

In my hometown, where I was born and where Auden died, the Channel Islands are silhouetted each night against the setting sun. They always make me think of her.

I will never know how different my life would be if Auden were still here. But I know that however many of those lost pieces I accumulate and hold, it will never be enough.

Auden's was a real beauty. But it mustn't be a rare beauty. The world is blessed with so many Audens, so many generous teachers and kind friends, so many loving daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers.

I have been thinking a lot about loss this October. And I think, if we would hold one as precious, we must hold all as precious.

Maybe then, when our love for our Auden opens us to the greater work before us, what we hold will be enough. Maybe then, what was at first an absence will become a repository for cherished memories and a wellspring of enduring hope.