Last night my small family gathered together for a time of devotion and reflection as we remembered the death of my father, Benjamin Bhagwan, five years ago. As we began our devotion, it dawned on me that my two older sisters, Lois and Sharon were away; both overseas in the line of duty, so to speak.
My relationship with my father, as an only son was of course very special. However I never could understand the way my father doted on his two daughters, until of course my own daughter, “Cyclone” Antonia, was born. As much my “ballerina princess” fights with me and chooses her mother over me in everything except giving her treats, I understand why my father adored his two girls, no matter how difficult they were. I also understand why my father was tempted to erect a barbed wire fence around our compound and caused many young men of Lautoka to walk quickly by our house (on the other side of the road),when his little girls began to blossom into the beautiful women they are today.
Given the situation our country, with the stories of rape, child abuse and incest constantly being brought to our attention, I am often tempted to enact security measures for my three-year old girl that would put our Fearless Leader's triple layer of personal protection to shame. Thankfully my “ballerina princess” is also a “warrior princess,” as her older brother is reminded on a regular basis.
Last week I received an email about an initiative called the Father and Daughter Alliance (FADA).
The “Father and Daughter Alliance (FADA) is a team of traditional and concerned family men/fathers who have seen the light on these issues, appealing to the father’s heart in other men in developing countries so they can help their daughters and other girls enroll and complete primary education and then access the same educational, economic and societal opportunities as boys.
Girls account for more than one half of the approximately 75 million children out of school. Though major gains have been made to narrow the gap in girls education, the World Bank states that “in developing countries, girls lag behind boys” and “many more girls drop out along the way than boys.”
The reasons why? Girls have to take care of relatives as well as cook for, serve or work for their families. Then there is the lack of appropriate sanitary/bathroom facilities, sexual harassment, adverse cultural practices and distance to schools.
It is also partly because of this lack of education, that many girls end up in domestic servitude, early marriage, abused and/or neglected, trafficked and prostituted, genitally mutilated, unable to access opportunities and continually dependent on others for all their needs.
Of the 774 million illiterate adults worldwide, 64% of them are women. Thus the vicious circle continues, particularly as countries move toward a knowledge society, since an illiterate mother is far less likely to send her daughters to school.
In her book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician, asserts that teenage girls are twice as likely to stay in school if their fathers are involved in their lives.
So far, the heavy burden in the struggle for girls’ education has been carried mostly by women in conjunction with NGOs, governments and multi-lateral organizations, and they have done heroic work with amazing results. But, more work is needed.
Men in the meantime have stayed on the sidelines. As we approach International Women's Day on Sunday, March 8th, let us respond to the need for traditional, and even religious family men/fathers who have seen the light on these issues to get involved and help those other men see the advantage of allowing and encouraging their daughters and other girls to access education, and eventually economic assets, and opportunities socially and politically.
For more information log on to: www.globalfada.org
This Friday, Christians around the world will commemorate the World Day of Prayer, prepared by women of Papua New Guinea on the theme, “In Christ We are Many Members Yet One Body.” In their different churches, of different denominations in different countries, they will remember that though divided by geography, language, dogma and doctrine, they are all part of the same Mystical Body of Christ.
Let us this weekend, in the midst of our Rugby Sevens World Cup hype, remember that we are one nation, and as men and women, equal members of the human race – the only “race” that matters.
May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light and peace - for both women and men and all children.