To mark International Women's Day, we spoke to Rosemary McCarney, President and CEO of Plan Canada and author of the new book, Every Day is Malala Day.
To mark International Women's Day, we spoke to Rosemary McCarney, President and CEO of Plan Canada and author of the new book, Every Day is Malala Day, which Kirkus Reviews has called, "a brief but moving manifesto that will spark both sympathy and heightened awareness of an endemic global outrage."
49th Shelf: Every Day is Malala Day is an interesting book, a letter to Malala Yousafzai affirming sisterhood from girls all over the world. In the book, you mention the short film that inspired you to frame your message in this way. What makes this structure so effective?
Rosemary McCarney: It was with great joy that I, like much of the world, watched Malala address the United Nations on her 16th birthday, when her and 600 other youth activists—including two Canadian girls from Plan Canada’s Youth program—took over the UN in New York. She spoke with such conviction and such passion on the right of all girls and boys to gain an education. It gave me shivers.
At the time, Plan’s head office in England had produced a short film depicting girls from all over the world writing to Malala to tell her how important a symbol she was for them in their lives. We hear the voices of these girls expressing their admiration for Malala and their solidarity with her struggles and cause.
I believe very strongly that the voices of children and girls should be heard—the wisdom and experience they have to share with the world is often silenced or ignored. I think we all have experienced the pure delight and joy of listening in on a group of girls talking about their passions and challenges with one another. Every Day is Malala Day is an example of many young voices saying “we too…” and “thank you” in their own way—a global dialogue about what it’s like to be a girl today.
49th Shelf: Malala has called herself “one girl among many,” and your book certainly establishes her in this context, linking her story to those of so many other girls around the world. Why was it important to make this more than just a story about Malala herself?
RM: One of my biggest concerns when I heard the news of Malala being harmed was that the world would dismiss it as simply a one-off or an isolated act of extremism and think of it as something happening ‘somewhere else’ or ‘out there’. But I know from my decades of work in international development that every day there are thousands of Malala-like stories occurring that never make the front pages of any newspaper, that are done with impunity and in silence without consequence. Malala too wanted to be sure that her classmates, friends and the girls she heard from around the world were not forgotten when she said “I am one girl among many”. Only by ensuring that the world knows that this violence against girls—which manifests itself in many forms—is pervasive and universal will we be able to begin the journey to ending it everywhere.
I know from my decades of work in international development that every day there are thousands of Malala-like stories.
49th Shelf: With a line like, “bullets are not the only way to silence girls,” readers are made to realize the extent of gender inequality all over the world. Do you have ideas about what then these young readers are meant to do with this knowledge and understanding?
RM: With this book and its powerful images and words, we hope that it provokes conversations and discussions about girls and their human rights—their right to go to school, their right to be free from violence, their right to choose their marriage partner at an appropriate age, etc. We hope that not just girls, but their parents and communities, discuss the issues and ideas raised by girls in this book, raise their own voices and use their influence to tackle these centuries-old barriers and harmful practices that keep girls from achieving their potential.
49th Shelf: The images in the book are beautiful. What are the stories behind these photographs? How were they selected?
RM: Plan works with children and families in over 90,200 villages and communities, so we’re privileged with a unique access that enables us to tell the stories of people and their lives through photography. Plan community workers often carry cameras since stories can sometimes be better told in pictures than words. Plan staff, and the photographs they take, are an important bridge in understanding, a tool used to describe the sometimes complex work being done by communities in the face of many challenges that are hard to contemplate for someone in a developed country.
We have a rich treasure of photos, and choosing them was probably the most difficult task—balancing imagery that would convey the story without overpowering young readers. So you will see uplifting photos of girls raising their voices (and their hands) for girls’ rights, but you will also see moving photos that depict struggle and hardship. We believe it is important to show the problem but then move quickly to showing girls taking action, bringing forward the solutions—empowered and fearless.
49th Shelf: “One book can change the world,” spoke Malala Yousafzai in her speech to the United Nations. And how do you hope that this particular book will help to do so?
RM: Well, that would be pretty audacious for me to think that this book will change the world, although I hope it contributes to the dialogue about children’s rights as human rights in a meaningful way. I hope it opens people’s minds to the clear opportunity that working with girls—in their homes, on the streets, in the schools, everywhere—presents. That by supporting and enabling them, they will show us what they need us to do. And sometimes it will simply be getting out of their way so they can claim and exercise the rights the world has promised them! They can show us that in a world that respects their rights—to an education in particular—that THEY will change the world.
Rosemary McCarney is president and CEO of Toronto-based Plan Canada, one of the largest international development agencies in Canada. After working with organizations like the World Bank, Canadian International Development Agency, the UN, and Street Kids International, she moved to Plan Canada, where she led the initiative for the International Day of the Girl and spearheads the Because I am a Girl campaign. Rosemary lives in Toronto with her family.
Founded in 1937, Plan is one of the world’s oldest and largest international development agencies, working in partnership with millions of people around the world to end global poverty. Not for profit, independent and inclusive of all faiths and cultures, Plan has only one agenda: to improve the lives of children. Because I am a Girl is Plan’s global initiative to end gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls—and everyone around them—out of poverty.