Princesses, Tutus and All Things ‘Girly’

Last week adweek highlighted a new ad campaign from a Catholic school in Kentucky entitled “You’re not a princess”.  Amy referred to the ads in her post on Tuesday.

When you look at the ads in their entirety they encourage girls to overcome obstacles, prepare for the real world and say there is more to life than beauty. Great messages! Unfortunately, for some these ads have become an open door for them to release significant pent-up hostility towards Disney (who knew?) and all things girly.

On Erin Ryan wrote, “Metastasized princess culture is responsible for all manner of social ills” look up the word metastasized and you will see it is most often used when referring to cancer. Right after this the author implies that princess culture is responsible for land mines. WHAT?

One mom wrote a blog entitled “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Girls Grow Up to be Princesses”. She uplifts building blocks and magnatiles while speaking about pink, tutus, and baby dolls as if they are some necessary evil we all have to grit our teeth and bare. At the end she writes:

“And, if your little girl absolutely must have a princess book consider The Paper Bag Princess, in which a pint-sized princess trades in her gown for much simpler attire to outsmart a dragon, save the prince and live happily ever after on her own”.

The overlying message in all this seems to be: A girl who likes pink, dresses and dreams of being a princess will grow up to be weak and a failure. She must cast off these foolish things and become a real woman!

Two things I have in response to this:

First of all, girls liking princesses will not have quite the dramatic effect these moms are suggesting. Moms have long been making pleas to stop dressing girls in princess costumes for Halloween, but what little girl wants to dress up as Jane Goodall? It’s in the same way, that little boys want to be cowboys and not Bill Gates. I once heard a kid say he wanted to grow up to be a fire truck (yes a fire truck not a fireman). Most kids change their minds about future career paths dozens of times, heck, adults change their career paths dozens of times.

Secondly, why is being a princess not an acceptable career choice/role model? Last May, shortly after Disney remade the look for the female character in Brave and caused a huge uproar, one mom decided to ask some girls in her life: What makes a princess? The girls named qualities such as kind, nice, royal, a friend, and brave. These don’t seem like such bad qualities to me!

In our efforts to empower girls let us not move to the opposite extreme. Let us not advocate for feminine equality by vilifying traditional femininity. The above comments uplift women heroes who wear business suits, sit in a board room or office with all men, don’t wear makeup, pink or glitter, and remain single their whole life to prove they don’t need a man. That picture of a woman is awesome and if a woman wants to go that way I support her. I also support the women who like wearing dresses, makeup and glitter. Women who want to get married and be mothers and who consider motherhood their top priority. Those women are no less female role models than the ones on Wall Street. Education should empower girls to be whichever kind of woman they want to be.


Herbert, C. (2013, May 29). Glamorized Disney princesses may not be affecting girls the way parents believe. Desert News. Retrieved from

Ryan, E. (2013, Nov. 12). Schools ‘you are not a princess’ campaign give girls much-needed real talk. Jezebel. Retrieved from

Smith, J. (2013, Nov. 13). Mamas, don’t let your girls grow up to be princesses. Huffington Post The Blog. Retrieved from

Secrets Behind Teenage Pregnancy: Who’s Responsible?

Teenage pregnancy is becoming a hot topic when discussing girls’ education. Dave and Amy have both written blogs responding to two proposed solutions: providing condoms and birth control (Uganda), and improving maternal and child health programs (Sahel). Amy’s post Tuesday quoted UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin who names little or no access to school as a factor contributing to teenage pregnancy. What if the schools themselves are contributing to teen pregnancy?

I recently found an article tucked away in a local newspaper from Botswana. It reports on a secondary school in central Botswana where a group of male students are threatening to take action in response to male teachers who are, “taking away their girlfriends”. Students at the school anonymously wrote a letter to the headmaster naming seven teachers involved in inappropriate relationships with female students at the school. This situation is not the first in Botswana, as the article reports. The school has asked both teachers and students to come forward with evidence so that proper disciplinary measures can be taken. I have found no follow up article.

You won’t find stories like this covered by the larger, international papers, perhaps because no one wants to admit it’s actually happening. Still, local reports allude to such behavior in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. Last month a member of Parliament in Kenya, John Muchiri, publicly commented on the rising cases of romantic relationships between teachers and schoolgirls and called it “shameful” and “irresponsible”. Unfortunately, Muchiri’s statement was only given one line of attention. Apparently no one thought it important to comment on Muchiri’s observation.

I spent four years teaching in Tanzania and I can testify that it is a regular occurrence there. In Tanzania, and I suspect these other nations, teachers force students to sleep with them in exchange for good grades. I personally know a young woman who got pregnant from her teacher. Luckily she was only months away from graduating and was able to hide her pregnancy until she had taken her final exam. I say “luckily” because Tanzania regularly expels students for getting pregnant.

Handing out condoms will only stop girls from becoming pregnant and maternal health care will only help them afterwards. I suggest a better strategy would be changing the source of why they are getting pregnant. How is it that girls are held responsible but not teachers? Inappropriate relationships with teachers do seem to raise alarm however, when it is with boys. An article in a Zimbabwean newspaper a few weeks ago reported on a teacher accused of sodomizing 10 young boys. The end of the article states, “According to Zimbabwean law, non-consensual same-sex behavior […] can lead to maximum life in prison if convicted.” If these students had been girls, would it have still raised the same alarm? To me, the tolerance of this hidden practice shows just how far we still have to go before girls everywhere are valued the same as boys.


(October 25, 2013). I boys to men. The Voice. Retrieved from

Githinji, R. (October 16, 2013). MP warns teachers over sex with students. The Star. Retrieved from

Xinhua (October 31, 2013). Zimbabwe teacher arrested for allegedly sodomizing 10 minors. Daily Monitor. Retrieved from

A Call For Action?

On October 31, USAID announced its new partnership to raise awareness for girls’ education in India. Partnering with several other organizations, they will create local-language releases of the film “Girl Rising” to increase public dialogue on issues surrounding girls’ education in India.

Girl Rising is a powerful film that highlights the real-life stories of nine girls born into difficult circumstances in India, Haiti, Cambodia, Peru, Afghanistan, Sierre Leone, Egypt, Nepal, and Ethiopia. Many of the girls play themselves, and well-known actresses, such as Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Alicia Keys, Meryl Streep, and actor Liam Neeson, narrate the film.

Girl Rising has been stirring up attention all over the world. For the International Day of the Girl on October 11th it was shown at more than 2,000 events in over 150 countries. Though the film is about girls in 9 specific countries, it reflects the common issues girls face in most developing countries. USAID’s partnership in India is not the only example of a country putting hope in the film’s ability to bring change. In the Philippines, Intel’s Yvonne Flores mentions, “they are currently in talks with the Department of Education on the possibility of integrating the Girl Rising film in the curriculum”.

I would like to note that I have not personally seen the film, but nonetheless, I still want to weigh in. I appreciate that the partnership in India is working to translate the English film into local languages, ultimately I think this will allow the film to have a stronger impact on a wider audience. Yet, I am not entirely convinced that showing the masses the issues girls are facing will have any major effect. People in developing countries know that girls aren’t going to school. Most of them could probably tell you the top three reasons why they are not. It isn’t rocket science. The thing is that a major factor behind lack of girls’ education stems around cultural beliefs that girls are inferior to boys. Showing a video to raise awareness about the struggles girls go through will not ultimate convince people that girls should be valued. Last week I wrote a post about Kakenya Ntaiya a masaai woman who has opened up a school for girls in her village. What I liked most about Kakenya’s story is that she was actually changing the beliefs of the men in her village. Yvonne Flores said that the film promotes awareness and, “calls for commitment and action from everyone“. How? More often awareness does not lead to action. Those of you reading this are most likely aware of issues preventing girls’ education. Are you doing something? Raising awareness is a great first step, but I think the Girl Rising film is just that: a first step.

If you would like to watch the film here are some upcoming showings of “Girl Rising” near Philadelphia:

  • When: Tue, November 12, 2013 at 07:30 pm   Where: Plymouth Meeting 10
  • When: Tue, November 19, 2013 at 07:30 pm  Where: King Of Prussia Stadium 16 & Imax
  • When: Mon, December 23, 2013 at 07:30 pm  Where: Barn Plaza Stadium 14

To find a showing where you live, check out this website


Barawid, R. (2013, October 10). Girl Rising. Manila bulletin. Retrieved from

USAID (2013, October 31). Girl rising partnership in India [Press release]. Retrieved from

One Woman Against a Tribe of Warriors

Earlier this month CNN announced their ‘Top Ten Heroes of 2013’. Kakenya Ntaiya, a Maasai from Kenya, is one of them.

Common to Maasai tradition, Kakenya underwent female circumcision when she was 14 years old. For most Maasai girls this procedure marks the end of their schooling days and the beginning of their duties as a wife. However, Kakenya struck a deal with her father; agreeing to the procedure on the condition she be allowed to continue schooling afterwards. Later, Kakenya received a scholarship to attend college in the United States and her village raised the funds for her airfare. In 2009, Kakenya made good on her promise to return and opened up the Kakenya Center for Excellence (KCE). It currently provides boarding and education to 150 Maasai girls. Parents who enroll their daughters must agree that they will not be subjected to genital mutilation or early marriage.

Recently in one of my classes we were discussing the issues behind corruption in Africa and several students expressed that they didn’t believe one person could change a system. Well, Kakenya Ntaiya sure is!

The Maasai are an indigenous tribe located in Kenya and Tanzania, and known to be strong warriors. The men dominate the tribe with women having the same status as children. Kakenya took a big risk at age 14 by standing up to her father. She fought long and hard for the village elders to give her land to build the current KCE. A village elder, Chief Naleke, claimed as recently as 2006 that there was no need for girls to be educated. Kakenya has now won him over and he is an important partner for KCE.

It is not easy to go against such strongly rooted cultural traditions. Kakenya told National Geographic that:

“At first people used to think I was crazy. They would say, ‘Girls should marry.’ But I think people saw I’m not giving up. People used to fight me. But I’m not leaving. No matter what, I’m staying. I say to them, ‘You may hate me now—but you’ll end up liking me!”

Kakenya may not be changing the practices and beliefs of all Maasai but she’s changing them for this village and for these 150 girls. In 2006, female circumcision and child marriage was made illegal in Kenya and Kakenya reports that this practice is significantly decreasing. However, currently only 11% of Maasai girls in Kenya finish primary school (CNN). Kakenya’s work touches on some important principles for increasing girls’ education. Kakenya has realized the importance of challenging the cultural beliefs and traditions standing in the way of girls’ education. Even restructuring KCE from a day school to a boarding school was done to make it easier for girls to attend. It can be dangerous for girls to walk the miles to school alone. Kakenya’s nonprofit also teaches the community about HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, and child marriage. I love that Kakenya is an example of a local bringing change to her own community. Change doesn’t have to come from outside. Kakenya’s journey shows that change does not happen over night. Yet, every small step made to increase girls’ education is a step in the right direction.

The 2013 CNN Hero will be chosen December 1 and will receive $250,000 for their programs. To vote for Kakenya Ntaiya as hero of the year and to read about the other nominated heroes click here.


Toner, K. (2013, October 11). Woman challenges tradition, brings change to her Kenyan village. CNN. Retrieved from

Bloch, H. (2013, October 29) Kakenya ntaiya: bringing education to kenya’s girls. National Geographic. Retrieved from

A Sparkle of Success

Stories of the horrific injustices relating to girls’ education are well known but there is an example of hope: a sparkle of success emerging for the world to see.

One-third of the girls in the developing world who are out of school, live in South Asia. Yet, in UN reports Sri Lanka is highlighted (along with India) as an exception. There, 90% of women are literate and 97% of girls are in enrolled in primary school (2010).

In this article on the Huffington Post blog, Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona discusses Sri Lanka’s long history in policies of gender equality and women empowerment. Child labor is outlawed, maternity leave is generous, widows are supported− each of these policies demonstrate the value of women and children in the society. Education as a whole is also extremely valued in Sri Lanka. Luke Smolinski describes how education was esteemed even during the civil war when terrorists ransacked the North. Luke (2013, Oct 4) writes, “Classroom tables and chairs were dragged from village to village so as to maintain some form of education”.

It seems Sri Lanka’s support of girls and their education is paying off. Infant and maternal mortality are down, absolute poverty is down, unemployment is at 3.9 %. All fantastic results compared to the regional statistics.

Where as in many developing countries educational enrollments plummet after primary school, Sri Lanka maintains high and rising enrollment rates in secondary and tertiary school.  Girls are now the ones leading the way in the nation’s universities, making up the most number of graduates in medical, teaching and nursing schools. Sri Lanka ranks ‘medium’ in the Human Development Index, a ranking achieved mainly by countries far above Sri Lanka’s in middle class income and economic wealth.

Last week in class we learned about the different approaches to feminism (WID, WAD AND GAD) Ambassador Kohona would make an excellent spokeman for the Women In Development campaign. Like the WID approach, he mentions all the capitalist benefits to including women in development. However, there is nothing in his discussion of gender “equality” about how girls are actually treated in school or women in the home. He mentions that girls are the majority of graduates in medicine, teaching and nurses. Two of these are female dominated professions everywhere. Is Sri Lanka also graduating rising numbers of women in the areas of Science, business and computers? It seems to me that Sri Lanka probably is promoting equality across all areas in order to get these kinds of results but I would like to have read about that more in this article.

Still, with all the news articles circulating out there about the lack of girls’ education I have to say this one makes me hopeful. It’s a bit troubling to me that I couldn’t find any other newspapers writing about Sri Lanka. So many articles cover the inequality in gender education and make loud calls for something to be done but often stop there. No one ever really proposes solutions. Here is a case of one country who is doing it right and reaping the benefits. Take note world!


Kohona, P. (2013, September 25). Sri Lanka: advancing gender equality with carefully calculated strategies. Retrieved from

Smolinski, L. (2013, October 4). S Asia education Pt2: Sri Lanka’s schools offer hope. Retrieved from

‘Burka Avenger’ Fights for Girls’ Education in Pakistan


Original Source:
Mcintosh, S., & Day, J. (2013, 10 03). Is the burka avenger cartoon subversive fun or barely covered brainwashing?. Metro News.

Pakistan’s first locally created animation has been raising debate all over the world. The cartoon titled “Burka Avenger” was created by one of Pakistan’s biggest male pop stars, Aaron Haroon Rashid. The main character is a young, female teacher disguised in a black burqa who fights to protect the girl’s school, where she works, from the Talibani men who threaten to shut it down. The first episode portrays the Taliban and others opposed to girls’ education as evil, ignorant thugs. It is full of comments about the importance of girl’s education for themselves and future generations. Western news sources harold the cartoon for tackling real issues in girls’ education and the Taliban’s blame for shutting down schools.

Still, local critics have focused in on the burka the character wears, and have steered conversation towards that issue rather than girls’ education.

Novelist Bina Shah, blogged: ‘Is it right to take the burka and make it look “cool” for children, to brainwash girls into thinking that a burka gives you power instead of taking it away from you?’  She fears little girls will start wearing burkas to imitate the character (2013).

Fakhar Uhar-Rehman fears the show may do more harm than good and it may be seen as a “mockery of the culture” (Aljazeera, 2013).

Haroon, the creater, told CNN that he chose the burka because he wanted to uplift the good things of Islam by showing the character is a Muslim woman AND a superhero. When speaking about the general purpose of the show Haroon has taken on a fairly neutral stance and states that he simply wanted to promote positive social messages to the children of Pakistan. Haroon never comes out and says he is specifically trying to promote girls’ education. Given what happened to Malala Yousafzai and the threats of publicly promoting girls’ education in Pakistan, it’s little surprise Haroon shows caution and reserve.

Aside from the ongoing battle for girls’ education, episodes of the Burka Avenger cover other issues affecting Pakistan, including discrimination, child labor, sectarian violence, electricity shortages and protecting the environment. Haroon reminds viewers that the Burka Avenger fights with a pen and not a sword: implying the value of education over violence. Unfortunately, the local fixation on the burka seems to have blanketed the show with controversy rather than applauding it for the positive messages it gives. Perhaps this was the precise motivation of those who in today’s society cannot publicly claim their opposition of girls’ education. The Burka Avenger, and the media coverage on the show, further exemplify the political pressure and danger sometimes coupled with girls’ education around the globe. I think the show proposes a creative way to advocate for girls in a country with such strong opposition.


(August 12, 2013) ‘Burqa avenger’ takes on the taliban. Aljazeera America. Retrieved from

Moshin, S. (2013, 08 05). Meet the burka avenger: a fighter for female education. CNN. Retrieved from

Shah, B. (2013, 07 28). Here comes the burka avenger (and she’s going to kick your ass). Retrieved from