The Girl Effect is a movement powered by the Nike Foundation where adolescent girls are called upon to help solve poverty within their communities. By reducing the percentage of child marriage, teenage pregnancy and the spread of HIV, a young teenage girl has the potential to break generations of poverty and change the life of her family and community for years to come. I was chosen as a Girl Effect Champ, which means that within my role as a Global Citizen Fellow, I look for ways to promulgate and implement the message of Girl Effect in my community. And I have been doing just that throughout my six months here in my small town of Lençóis.
Before I could implement the mission though, I had to face an identity a problem at hand. Through my observations and conversations with locals and medical clinics, I started to notice a trend and a problem unfolding. Given a lack of proper role models and a lack of a consciousness-raising upbringing, teenagers grow up in a culture where self-respect isn’t stressed as often as it should be. We have a word in portuguese ‘piriguete‘ which refers to a girl who doesn’t wear much clothing, reveals her body for other peers to see, and/or switches her sexual partner often.
The term is thrown around like a joke–a humorous way for people to poke fun at their friends. But it’s the lightheartedness that surrounds this issue of girl revealing too much of her body that causes a real problem to arise. The more you brush a problem under the rug and sugarcoat it with laughter, the bigger the problem becomes. This kind of behavior is handed down from generation to generation and it molds itself into the culture, making it hard to change. Numerous times, I have spoken to locals about this issue and almost every time the local shrugs his or her shoulders and says it is all part of the culture.
Due to what I have witnessed in my town, I was reminded of The Golden Rule, a maxim that has followed me throughout my childhood education. The Golden Rule states: treat others the way you’d like to be treated. The Golden Rule implies that you need to treat others with respect in order to receive it. While I agree with this analysis, I believe that there is something deeper we can learn from the Golden Rule. I believe that for people to treat you how you want to be treated, you have to present yourself in a way that projects how people should treat you. In today’s society, how you present yourself to your peers can determine whether they treat you with respect. It’s why you go to a job interview looking nice and presentable because that first impression you make determines the rest of the impressions you will make.
Something that has shocked me when doing my research about the matter of teenage pregnancy is that people here have access to free contraception. I asked a nurse then, “why are there so many teenagers getting pregnant if they have contraception available to them?” His answer wasn’t that their religion didn’t permit it, or that they didn’t know what contraception was. His answer was that sex to teenagers here is looked upon as joke and the reality of getting pregnant doesn’t come up until they’re actually pregnant. He then went onto explain that teenagers don’t come to the clinics to infer about options like birth control because they are ashamed and embarrassed.
The Golden Rule, I believe, can help implement the message of Girl Effect. Think how different things would be in a society if women carried themselves with a conscious mind towards how they present themselves to others and thought of themselves as accomplishing something greater than becoming a teenage mother.
This brings me back now to Girl Effect and my specific role as a Girl Effect Champ. After having observed and talked about this cultural aspect of Brazil, I have finally found a way to implement the message of Girl Effect in my community. On March 20th I will be giving a presentation in one of the public middle schools in Lençóis. I plan on touching upon some of the points I have mentioned in this blog: self-respect, the Golden Rule, and the accessibility of contraception. My goal for this presentation is not to go into a classroom and tell youngsters how they dress and act is wrong or that they shouldn’t have sex because they could get pregnant. I want to be a positive role model for them and to encourage them to think about these issues. I want teenage students to recognize these issues as important because they themselves see it as a problem, not because I’m telling them it is. Also, with the help of local nurses, I hope to create a trusting relationship in which the students don’t need to feel ashamed or embarrassed to go to the clinics. I hope to instill in them the notion that they have a safe and trustworthy outlet if and when they need help. I believe the teenagers in Lençóis are willing to listen and learn; they just need someone to invest in them.