Saturday, March 7, 2015

Just My Luck

I could call myself privileged.
I was lucky to be born in a country where free public education is mandated.
I am lucky to live in the same house as both of my biological parents.
I am lucky to only have minor physical and medical conditions that don't affect my chance of succeeding in life.
I am lucky to have internet access and freedom to post whatever I want on social media.
I am lucky to do my homework without bombs falling in the background because the nearest wars are thousands of miles away.
But I don't consider those privileges. They are rights, and rights, so far I can tell, are just privileges you can't take away.

A few weeks back, the girls and women in my ward (church congregation) did a volunteer project with a nonprofit organization called Days for Girls. Simply put, they provide reusable feminine hygiene pads to schoolgirls in developing countries around the world.
Now let's get into why they have to do it. It's not because running water is a privilege and most third world girls grow up wiping themselves with their left hand and carrying around that gunk for the rest of the day. It's not because they have no way to dispose of trash, so just mailing in a few normal pads won't cut it. It's not because desperate girls will use corn husks as makeshift pads and that causes all kinds of infections.
It's because girls around the world are trading sexual favors to stay in school.
Hygiene kits
Our Days for Girls volunteer supervisor shared a story about a time she worked with a school in central Kenya. She contacted the male headmaster and asked if Days for Girls could host an assembly. He said yes. After she gave her presentation and helped distribute materials, a girl smiled graciously up at her and said, "Now we won't have to go to the men anymore."
When she asked her what she meant, the girl explained that whenever that time of month hit, girls would go their male teachers and staff, explain their predicament, and meekly shut the office doors. Ten minutes later they'd come out carrying pads. They go back to class.
And if they're not up to the task? Then they stay home. They stay home, and they miss so much school that they end up dropping out,
The day my ward volunteered, I couldn't find my sewing scissors, so I walked in late and only caught the tail end of the story. I knew I'd probably end up blogging about it, so while the supervisor ran across the room making sure everyone had a cutting pattern or outlet access, I asked her what country this school was in.
She was flustered and annoyed with me for wasting her time. "It's not just Kenya, it happens everywhere." And not just with teachers either. Community men get in on it. "They set up their shacks and tents across the street from schools."
There's one more thing I could count as privilege. I was lucky to be born in a country where my mom could simply hand me a pad the day after my thirteenth birthday. "Congratulations. You're a woman."
As we cut and stitched the fabric to make these pads, several of my friends told me they'd "never complain again" about their periods. I didn't want to join in. If we count pads as a privilege, then we're saying sexual exploitation is a natural part of life for teenage girls, and it's just my luck that I got through high school without it.
Kenyan girls after receiving their kits
This is why I don't like the idea of privilege. Even if these Kenyan girls' experience is statistically more common than mine, they shouldn't be the standard.

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