Su Balasubramanian manages the Because I am a Girl initiative at Plan International USA. She previously received a BSE in computer engineering from Case Western Reserve University, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Samoa, earned an MBA focused in social entrepreneurship and marketing from Duke University and worked in brand management at Procter and Gamble.
Imagine being a child in the developing world. It’s hard enough to be faced daily with the cruel injustices of poverty, HIV/AIDS, lack of clean water, scarcity of education, and an abundance of trafficking and child labor. Now imagine being a girl—when it means that you watch your brothers go to school while you stay home to walk miles to fetch water from the well or that you eat only after the rest of your family has finished. Or that you are helpless to the threat of sexual violence. Or that you will be married and pregnant by the time you are 12.
Millions of girls around the world suffer this fate each day. We often feel so far-removed from these issues, and sometimes we imagine that they just can’t be true, because they are so extreme and overwhelming. What’s the solution?
The solution is multi-faceted and holistic. It’s educating girls while protecting them from trafficking and violence. It’s ensuring that they receive the healthcare they need. It’s making sure they are not only getting enough to eat but that their nutrition is sound. But for these needs to be met, people have to believe that girls are worth investing in. Often, the allocation of resources and support is determined by others, usually men who hold powerful positions in the family and in the community. So, helping girls means reaching out to men and boys. Everyone benefits when girls are valued and there is equity in the ways girls and boys are treated.
This year’s Because I am a Girl report asks an important question, “So what about men and boys?” I’d like to share a personal story that is one answer to this question.
Many years ago, my father, the eldest son from a rural farming village inSouth India, was destined to take over the farm. However, he decided that waking at 4 am to milk cows or working in a sugar cane field through the heat of each day wasn’t the life he desired for his family. He sought every possible opportunity to achieve a better life, the classic American dream. My father immigrated to the States and arrived with one suitcase, $5 in his pocket and a determination that seemingly no challenge or hardship could diminish. Despite the strong cultural norms in which he had been immersed throughout his upbringing, he instilled in all of us, my brother and sister alike, the importance of our education. He loved us and valued us all. He taught us that our fate should be determined by how hard we work, not by our sex. Because of my parents’ efforts and the opportunities that I was afforded as a result, I am able to appreciate the fruits of their labor today. And I am able to dedicate my career to affording girls in developing countries some of the same opportunities.
I am sure that this is only one of the many stories of how the men in our lives have been integral in instilling in girls a sense of value, of purpose and ultimately, the opportunity to thrive. Men and boys have an important role to play in the success of girls, and when we invest in girls, we see meaningful impact on the lives of their families and in their communities.
Read the full Because I am a Girl Report: “So, What About Boys?”
Learn more about programming for adolescent boys on our topic area page.