Panel discussion: International Day of the Girl
The Student Government Association and the Cooperative for Relief and Assistance Everywhere (CARE) hosted a panelist discussion about the International Day of the Girl Monday in the Student Center South. While International Day of the Girl was on Oct. 11, the participating members of the event encouraged advocacy and action to promote equality in third world countries.
The panel consisted of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy Policy Researcher Ariana Marnicio, case worker at YMCA International Services Hanny Omar and Director of Refugee Services at Interfaith Ministries Ali Al Sudani.
Biology senior and CARE advocate Sadia Tasnim moderated the event. With her questions for the panel, she directed attention to gender equality and its connection to the current international Syrian crisis.
In nine countries around the world at least half of women are married by 18 years old, according to a 2011 study by the Population Reference Bureau. Additionally, in the poorest regions of the world, more than 35 percent of women ages 20-24 were married by the age of 18.
Marnicio said she believes the United Nations creates days like International Day of the Girl to encourage people and different advocacy groups to focus their attention on a particular issue, even if it’s for only one day.
“Girls are often the most susceptible to being vulnerable to different issues of poverty, inequality and violence, in situations of conflict,” Marnicio said. “We’re talking about the Syrian case because that is what’s current with the refugees right now. It’s critically important to keep girls in mind at every stage of a conflict, including when people have found their way out of the conflict scenario, how do we make sure we provide services that target the most vulnerable groups of an even more vulnerable group?”
Millions of Syrians are seeking refuge in various countries. Sudani said the average refugee admission process in the U.S. takes approximately 18 months. Also, immigrants often have a difficult integration into society, as women are sometimes unaccustomed to being active members of the community without the male component’s permission.
According to state.gov, the U.S. has accepted over 3 million refugees since 1975 while Texas recently topped the list for refugee resettlement. Sudani said Houston accepts about 30 to 35 percent of total refugees coming to Texas, attributing Houston’s diverse community to this percentage.
Omar herself is a refugee from Kenya and despite Sudani saying the average immigration process takes 18 months, her admission into the U.S. took 10 years. She said this is due to her growing family during the immigration process as she’s one of 12 children.
In Omar’s refugee camp in Kenya, she said most girls were not encouraged to achieve an education, but instead were pushed to get married. However, she said her father was supportive of her education and insisted that it was her decision when it came to marriage proposals.
While in Kenya, Omar worked with an organization that created educational films on how to prevent domestic violence, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. She often went house-to-house to educate women, but she was accused of “spoiling the women” of the camp and was attacked a few times for this reason.
Omar said she would like to return to Africa to do more outreach.
“People are still way behind,” Omar said. “There’s a lot of things they’re not informed about. There’s a lot of things they don’t get to do because the culture is different and the people are different.”
The panel encouraged the room to communicate with state representatives to aid in the Syrian crisis. At its lowest effort, Maricias suggested Facebook advocacy, insisting that even a shared status or globally directed article could ignite discussion and be a step towards change.