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10 Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Day of the Girl With Your Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

The people behind International Day of the Girl Child (October 11) say it's not just a day, it's a movement. It's a response to the continued, systematic neglect and devaluation of girls around the world. Because the difficult, sobering truth is that every year:

  • 10 million girls are forced or coerced into marriage.
  • One in 3 girls is denied a secondary education worldwide.
  • Pregnancy is the leading cause of death for young women ages 15–19 in developing countries.
  • 150 million girls under age 18 have been raped or faced another form of sexual violence.

We are fortunate to live in a country where, for many girls, forced early marriage or being banned from school are not the issues du jour. So how can you have a meaningful conversation with your teenage daughter when death from early childbirth isn't even on her radar? How can you speak with your middle schooler about how unfair it is that a third of girls are denied access to secondary education when their favorite thing to complain about is homework?

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I asked experts and regular moms alike for their tips on engaging our daughters—and sons, too—and inspiring them to appreciate their good fortune while brainstorming ways to promote gender equality worldwide. You'll help them develop empathy and broaden their worldview and will likely be greeted with a deeply meaningful conversation in return.

Even better, most of these can be done with little planning, so if it's 3 p.m. and you're just now realizing that today is International Day of the Girl, you still have plenty of time to make a difference.

1. Go the tech route

If your daughter is into social media, encourage her to follow @dayofthegirl on Twitter or to show her solidarity with a Day of the Girl twibbon. Also, on October 11, the CNN Freedom Project is running a live Twitter chat with trafficking survivor Rani Hong (@RanisVoice). At age 7, Rani was bought by a slave master and eventually sold into illegal adoption. Using the hashtag #cnnfreedom, your daughter can ask Rani any question she might have about human trafficking at 4 p.m. ET on October 11.

2. Give her $25 to spend on Kiva.org

This is a great way to help your daughter emotionally connect with another woman, even one in the most remote corners of the globe.

Teach her the concept of microfinance, providing others with access to capital to help them create a better life for themselves and their families. Visit Kiva.org together and page through hundreds of borrower stories of people seeking loans to grow their business.

Encourage your daughter to find someone she connects with, whether it's a young Pakistani woman looking to purchase more goats so she can sell the milk, or a 30-year-old mom in Honduras seeking funds to purchase grains, sugar and bread to sell at the market.

Once the borrower fulfills her loan request, she begins paying it back; your daughter will receive an email that her $25 has been repaid, and she can reinvest it in someone else. This is a great way to help your daughter emotionally connect with another woman, even one in the most remote corners of the globe.

3. Talk about child marriage in an age-appropriate way

According to CARE, in 26 countries, girls are more likely to be married before age 18 than to be enrolled in secondary school. If your daughter is too young to know what Burkina Faso and Chad are, come at the child marriage talk from a different angle, as Gayatri Patel, CARE USA's senior gender and empowerment policy advocate, did with her 6-year-old:

"I put it in terms of how sometimes girls are not able to go to school like she is because they are expected to stay at home with their families or husbands or work outside of the home (cleaning, cooking, caring for children, or farming for example) rather than learning, playing and doing fun things. I asked her (a) whether she thought it was fair that in many of these spots, boys get to go to school but girls don't, (b) what she thinks those girls who don't get to go to school are missing, and (c) what she thinks might help. We briefly touched on the fact that many girls don't get to go to school because they have to be married, which she thought was gross because 'boys are gross.' Her idea was that we talk to girls' parents to convince them to let their daughters go to school because kids are supposed to go to school, not take care of babies. (She has a little brother that she is forced to play with sometimes, so this last part might have been personal.)"

4. Create a vision board

If you grew up in the '80s, you remember those posters we used to make for our friends, plastered with words and pictures torn from our favorite magazines. Bring that idea into the 21st century by gathering up a slew of magazines, two pairs of scissors, some double-sided Scotch tape, and start cutting out meaningful words, phrases or images that catch your eye and say "girl power" in some way to you or your child—anything "inspiring, encouraging, inspirational or that encompasses her as a strong girl," says mom of four and blogger Amy Bell of Positively Splendid.

5. Don't be afraid to use YouTube

It's wonderful that today's kids have strong role models and new versions of rock stars.

Julie Smolyansky, a mother of two young girls (ages 5 and 7), CEO of Lifeway Foods and co-founder of the Test400K nonprofit, which is dedicated to ending the U.S. backlog of rape kits, is no stranger to broaching emotionally charged issues with her kids.

"It's about using appropriate language and approaching topics when they make sense," she says. "When they disrespect their food, we pull up YouTube videos of starving children from around the world, and while it is frightening for them to see emaciated children, it's also a reality that millions of children around the world are living with. And guess what? Now our girls are very careful about not wasting food. We talk about good touch and bad touch, about the fact that they get to control their body, and if they don't want to hug someone, they don't have to. When they complained about school, we used it as an opportunity to share that around the world, 62 million girls don't get to go to school. We pulled up a YouTube video about Malala and explained that while they are safe in their school, some kids are not. It's wonderful that today's kids have strong role models and new versions of rock stars."

6. Involve your sons, too

In order for girls to enjoy gender equality, boys need to be on board, too.

"As parents of sons, we are not off the hook in promoting gender equity," says Robert Andrews, a dad of twin boys living outside of Boston. "In fact, we may even be more important in the fight for equality. Only when boys see themselves as feminists will they grow up to see women as true equals. If you believe in gender equality, it is just as important to celebrate International Day of the Girl with our sons."

7. Watch Ziauddin Yousafzai's TED Talk about his daughter, Malala

Sit down together and watch this empowering talk titled, "Why is my daughter strong? I didn't clip her wings" together. Then watch Malala accepting her Nobel Peace Prize. Then talk about it.

8. Decide as a family to sponsor a girl…

Watch this video from CARE, which uses child-friendly cartoon characters, then decide as a family to sponsor a girl. (You can do it here or here, for instance.) Or browse through CARE's Gifts of Lasting Change and buy a girl a backpack filled with school supplies ($26.10); help a girl learn how to read with a literacy kit ($167); or help girls break down gender barriers by learning how to play soccer ($400). If you daughter gets an allowance, talk to her about putting a few weeks worth of it toward one of these options.

9. … or pick out a poignant holiday gift for a loved one

You can also choose one of the above options in lieu of a holiday gift for a family member: Your daughter's grandmother would probably be far more touched to hear that her granddaughter purchased a cow for a Tanzanian family in her honor instead of perfume or a bathrobe.

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10. Watch the trailer for "Girl Rising"

This aching documentary tells the stories of nine girls from developing nations such as Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Middle school girls should be ready for Suma's story (bonded labor); Yasmin's story may be better left to older girls (assault). Watch the two-minute trailer first—appropriate for a PG-13 audience—then download the full film here.

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