Where Are the Stories of Girls?

This week the world celebrated Malala Day, a day to celebrate the courage of one young girl and to renew our every day promise to make sure girls' stories of hope and triumph can overcome despair and tragedy.

You already know the stories of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. You know the stories of Steve Jobs and Harvey Milk.

But you do not know many stories of girls and young women.

The stories we do not hear transform us as much as those we do hear. The stories that are silenced or marginalized tell a story about who we are as a collective humanity, as individuals who are striving to do our best, to live full and honest and peaceful lives.

In 1942, a girl named Anne Frank kept a diary. In an annexed room hidden from the world during World War 2, Anne told a story of a family deprived of the human right of freedom and deprived of the simple pleasures of the world around them. They lived with fear and terror every day. This story was told by a young girl who knew how to read and write and she shared a story that has transformed the way we think about that time period and about what we could do to create a "never again" for holocausts and discrimination. Anne famously wrote, in a tiny attic in the midst of a terrible time: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." This call to action rings as true today as it did over 70 years ago. The power lies with us, the people. Listening to stories, honoring them, and valuing the power of a young girl's voice cannot wait.

Anne's was a rare story of a young girl's voice heard by the world, around the world, and its impact ripples to this day. The voice of Malala Yousafzai has also changed us. Unlike many girls in Pakistan's Swat Valley, Malala was able to attend school regularly from a young age and had access to books and information, to the power of literacy to make her strong and resilient. She told her story to local and international news and documented it online to tell the world what was happening to her and to her classmates. When the Taliban banned education for girls in her community Malala refused to give up her human right to go to school and so she was shot and nearly killed on a school bus in October 2012. That bus was full of girls who had the audacity to dream, to fulfill the right they each deserved to go to school every day and learn to read and write and tell their stories.

As hopeful as I am about the future, we are not doing enough fast enough to ensure that every girl's voice gets heard. And worse, the stories we do hear are stories of victimization, suffering and struggle. We anguish for the girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram and we grieve for the girls who die in childbirth at the age of ten and eleven in many parts of the world. We are filled with sorrow to imagine the thousands of girls who will never get to go to fifth grade and savor the joy of their stories on a page or screen.

I recently watched an interview with the television star Angie Harmon and she said she liked watching the Alien movies because she appreciated seeing a woman who could end intergalactic harassment by killing a monster and bringing children (and the men who failed to wrangle the alien, by the way) to safety. I totally get what she means. I want to make sure the world has stories of girls fighting the bad guys, beating back the forces of darkness, becoming superheroes, fighting triumphantly for access to the world, the fresh air, the freedom and the gifts an education and transformational literacy bring to them.

It is up to each of us to carry the momentum from Malala Day forward. Championing the stories of girls and their right to tell them is not a single day event. Let's make sure that our daughters and the girls growing up now get to hear those stories and tell their own triumphant ones too. What should be heard around the world is not a "shot;" it should be a story.