‘To boldly go’: a letter to the lost girls

Katherine McIndoe

Extract from the essay of Senior Prize Winner of the Commonwealth Essay Competition 2013, Katherine McIndoe, aged 19, from New Zealand 

To the lost girls, 

My name is Katherine. I’m a girl, just like you. I have grown up in New Zealand, and I go to university. Ever since I was little, I have had this feeling that I can do whatever I want to do, that my future is not my fate but something that I can choose. I see no obstacles, only opportunities. No one can force me to do anything that I don’t want to do, no one can tell me how to live my life. I am my own person, and I am happy. 

Your lives have not been so lucky. For you, there were no opportunities, only obstacles. No excitement at the idea of an unknown future, only hopelessness. You have suffered more than I can possibly imagine, and the difference between us? None. There is only a similarity: we were all born girls. For me, it’s just part of who I am. For you, it was a death sentence. 

This is a letter to the lost girls of the world. I’m writing to the girls whose lives are taken as babies because their families don’t want a ‘useless’ female child. I’m writing to the girls whose childhoods are taken from them in the form of trafficking, forced prostitution, and forced marriage. I’m writing to the young mothers who die all too frequently in childbirth, whose deaths are preventable and pointless. I’m writing to the girls who are denied sustenance in times of hunger, while their brothers are given the scarce food. I’m writing to the girls who are beaten in their own homes, and whose governments don’t recognise their right to safety. I’m writing to the women and girls who die from HIV/AIDS, contracted after they are sold, coerced, and tortured into the sex trade. I’m writing to the girls who have acid flung in their faces for perceived insubordination and faithlessness, and to those who douse themselves in gasoline and set themselves on fire to escape institutionalised domestic abuse. I’m writing to the silent girls, the voiceless girls, the lonely girls, and the lost girls – and there are more every day. 

Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen told us in 1990 that over 100 million women are ‘missing’ from the world, and today, two million more vanish every year. Throughout Asia, the ratio of men to women is disproportionately high (in Pakistan, for example, there are 111 men to every 100 women). This sort of disparity belies biology and reason, given that in many places women are proven to live longer and healthier lives. There is a huge gap where, logically, millions of women should be. But they are not there. Where do these women go? 

The simple answer is that these ‘lost’ girls go missing because of gender discrimination. Every year in China, 39,000 baby girls die before the age of one because they are denied the same medical attention as baby boys. Sex-selective abortion, too, is a common practice that contributes to skewed sex ratios. Globally, maternal mortality is responsible for the preventable death of one woman per minute, and widespread trafficking of women and girls also robs communities of their women. And for those who make it through early childhood, normalised rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence await many girls as they grow up – for example, 21 per cent of South African women are raped by the age of 15, while a woman or under-age girl is raped every 20 minutes in India. 

This is ‘gendercide’, an undeniable, calculated attack on the women of the world, and it needs to be addressed. Undoubtedly, the only way that humanity can address it is if we ‘boldly go’. This requires us to display something abstract and intangible – courage. 

The poet Carol Ann Duffy wrote about a poker game between some tough women, figures drawn from history and literature. She describes how, even as these women played their game and made their moves, standing behind each was “a line of ghosts unable to win”. You and your predecessors are these ghosts, these women standing behind us as we hold the cards. But it’s time that you won. It’s time that your silent screams were heard and acted on with the courage they merit. It’s time that we go boldly, so that you are the last girls to be lost to your families, communities, and the world.

About the author:

Katherine McIndoe is the Senior Prize Winner of the Commonwealth Essay Competition 2013


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