I met these beautiful faces in a rural village somewhere on a bumpy back road between Agra and Delhi. The community was teeming with children. They followed us with curious eyes and lively chatter, amazed by our clothes, our shoes, our electronics, our hair, our own curiosity.
We were told that the girls don't go to school. To quote a neighboring community leader. "It would give them modern ideas. It wouldn't be good." Mind you, he had on a pair of dark wash jeans, a roguishly buttoned lavender Oxford shirt, sunglasses, and hair that was cut and styled to Italian male model standards as well as a cell phone in his pocket.
My empowered western female self wanted to hiss back, "Yes, they might like to be older than 14 when they marry, or be able to learn geography and multiplication as 8 year olds rather than being appointed the caregivers of infants and toddlers in the community. They might like to graduate at 18 rather than await the birth of their second or third child."
And I am aware that they don't seem overtly unhappy or neglected or abused. Look at their brilliant smiles! Can't you see their curiosity and passion for life? Can you see their potential beyond their current joy?
I do know that without education, they will be disenfranchised - not just in their small village, but in the whole global society. I know they will have little voice in their future or their daughters' futures. I know that they would not meet the eyes of any male in our group. I know that they will not pray in the same place as their fathers, brothers and future husbands.
Do they have a vision of something different?
My vision is a world where women's gifts and potential reach well beyond their ability to bear and nurse children. I had never encountered such imposed limitations on women and it makes my heart hurt. I know that the work of helping girls emerge toward their full potential is dicey, dangerous, long. But it must be done. And done well. For their sake.