The 411 Initiative for Change and Plan Canada are touring Canada to screen a new documentary film for students in middle and high school that features exceptional girls and women who have a desire to create social change and inspire others to make a difference as well. The interviews are intended to generate discussion among participants about girls’ issues–locally and globally–and motivate (or guilt?) people to get involved in activities that empower girls’ and women living in countries all over the world to live self-determined lives. The weight of the issues are tempered by performances by hip-hop emcees Masia One and Eternia, as well as a mock talk show format hosted by broadcast journalist Nana Aba Duncan. These are young people, after all.
That said, I’m wary of campaigns that simply ask people to give money, buy shit, and sign some petition or other in order to help some ostensibly helpless population (particularly when that population is women in the Global South) because it feels more like an attempt to assuage one’s own guilt and posit an ethnocentric Western ideal than to truly alleviate the conditions that necessitate girls’ and women’s exploitation. Sustainable change must go beyond this type of cosmetic individualist activism; it must be indigenously generated and led, systemic in nature, and address the root causes of oppression. Despite its good intentions, so far as I can tell, the Because I Am A Girl campaign fails to meet any of these three criteria.
Because I Am A Girl isn’t the only campaign whose stated goals don’t entirely align with its practice. Just two weeks ago the much-lauded Kiva was exposed by the New York Times for its failure to be completely forthcoming about its methods of moneylending. (Full disclosure: I have given money to Kiva in the past.) The purpose of an organization that is truly dedicated to social justice is to put itself out of business, and to ensure they are doing just that, it is important for feminists and others who advocate for progressive change to think beyond the surface of these glammed up, NGO-run, girl power campaigns and cultivate a critical way of examining these organizations’ functioning in the short and long term.