Olive Branch (*) In April 2014 two hundred seventy-five girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. In the four years since then, one hundred were released and others managed to escape but about 100 never returned. Where they are is unknown. With all the advances in technology, including drones that do aerial observación, they were never found. Aside from their families these girls remain unimportant.

Photo by Mitzi Stark

In 2012 in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old girl and two companions were shot by extremists as they made their way home from school. Education for girls is still not universally accepted.

In much of the world, girls are victims of sexual, physical, psychological and emotional abuse and they are defenseless. Because of the culture surrounding girls they are afraid to resist or escape their abusers. One-third of all women in the world have been victims of some form of abuse at the hands of fathers, step-fathers, husbands or a family member.

During adolescence the first sexual experience for boys is a mark of manhood. An event to brag about. For girls, no. There is the fear of pregnancy. The fear of parental disapproval. It’s a moral conflict. She’s a whore. Or she offers her body for the pleasure of a boyfriend. There is often shame.

Photo by Mitzi Stark

Girls are victims of commercial exploitation for dolls, toy dishes, sexy clothes and Barbie dolls to teach them the role of womanhood. Even in modern cultures parents still hope their daughters will marry well and provide them with grandchildren. The bride in her gown and veil is still the dream of teen women. The wedding is the high point of her life. She expects to live happily ever after.

In most societies, the arrival of a baby boy is cause for celebrating while the birth of a girl baby is not quite the same. In many homes, a number of girls are born in an effort to produce a boy. Even in royal families the heir to the throne is male even if he has older sisters.

In the workplace women are also victims of prejudice as administrators see women employees as less capable or that menstruation or pregnancy will affect their capacity to work. Among governments and corporations few women hold positions of power or decision making. And in public situations women are more timid when it comes to expressing their opinions. They feel embarrassed or fear being ridiculed. The reason is that girls grow up with lower expectatives for an independent future or for opportunities to excel. Or they lack the self-esteem to break away from the traditional roles for women.

Photo by Mitzi Stark

Raising girls is an overwhelming responsibility but it is also the key to their future. It is important that parents know and understand that girls have fears and help them face those fears. Parents, especially mothers need to stand by their daughters. With that they will learn to accept challenges. And they will learn to say “no” without shame.

It is necessary to educate boys as well so that will stand by girls as they would another boy. Solidarity should never be based on gender, it should be human based.

Instincts are powerful in women. Girls need to learn to listen to theirs.

Mothers, aunts, teachers need to be role models to girls, that girls see the scope of womanhood and do not fear to choose a lifestyle that suits them.

This is not to say that dresses and dolls are bad for girls but they need to learn to solve problems and to develop potential. They need toys and games that stretch their imaginations and capabilities. They need to be included in sciences and technology to be prepared to face the future whether that future is a profession, a job, a community volunteer or motherhood.

*Olive Branch is the collective name of members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, section Costa Rica. Mitzi Stark, Emily Morales and Ashli Nelson contributed to this article. Contact us at peacewomen@gmail.com.