This is a really good book about how cultural norms shape people’s private lives. The writers researched in four specific countries (Ethiopia, Nepal, Uganda, and Viet Nam) to look at the problems girls face as well as efforts and programs trying to make changes.
Most of these sections begin with a phrase like, “there have been dramatic improvements and yet…” So a lot of times the laws for things like child marriage or sending kids to school have changed (in the past twenty years or so), but the girls aren’t informed about them and/or there are other factors blocking the laws from being effective (funding, implementation, religious beliefs, etc).
Two main things holding the girls back are marriage and child bearing. Living in poverty adds to the pressure for both of these things. The parents are desperate for the work their kid’s wives will do, they want more sons (to get more daughter-in-law workers), they want to get rid of their daughters (instead of investing in them educationally or otherwise because once they’re married, they’re gone anyway), etc.
The main thing empowering the girls is knowing their rights. There was a girl in Ethiopia who told on her parents for trying to marry her off even though child marriage is illegal. Her father got two days in jail, and she avoided the marriage. There was also a girl who fought back against a boy who kept harassing her on the school bus because she just found out that she could.
Two other moments that stood out to me were 1. a girl asking, “tell me, what’s so wrong with being a girl?”, and 2. a thirteen year old girl in Viet Nam asking someone to explain to her how she had a kid (like the biological and scientific explanation). Those two lines are really sad on the surface, but that raw curiosity also shows their resilience.