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 Jezebel.com 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.

Sources:

Herbert, C. (2013, May 29). Glamorized Disney princesses may not be affecting girls the way parents believe. Desert News. Retrieved from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865580816/In-defense-of-Disney-Glamorized-princesses-may-not-be-affecting-girls-the-way-parents-believe.html?pg=all

Ryan, E. (2013, Nov. 12). Schools ‘you are not a princess’ campaign give girls much-needed real talk. Jezebel. Retrieved from http://jezebel.com/schools-you-are-not-a-princess-ads-give-girls-much-n-1463037459

Smith, J. (2013, Nov. 13). Mamas, don’t let your girls grow up to be princesses. Huffington Post The Blog. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-davis-smith/mamas-dont-let-your-girls-grow-up-to-be-princesses_b_4268738.html

Sexual inequality: not just a Third World concept

If you read the news (or our blog) you understand that girls around the world are consistently denied educational opportunities, be it by their parents, their government, or the simple yet complicated aspect of “access.” A recent article by the economist, also covered by Dave, refers to education for girls in a pragmatic voice, arguing that uneducated girls are a waste of human capital, yet current initiatives to keep girls in school are not enough. Setting global goals and funding education for female students doesn’t change discriminatory perceptions of girls, particularly in the most traditional of societies.

This news article examines a recent journal article in the Journal of Development Economics, which discusses the impact of droughts on female attendance in Uganda. The author, Martina Björkman-Nyqvist, discovered that when there was a reduction in rainfall by 15%, 5% of girls enrolled in the seventh grade did not go to school. This information was consistent over a period of 24 years. But the question is “why?”

Because many traditional societies, particularly in Africa, have an agricultural-based income, family incomes decrease significantly in times of drought. Families need more income, so they pull girls out of school. But why girls and not boys? The Economist says it best: boys are kept in school because “education produces greater rewards for them in the job market than it does for girls.” In other words, boys will be paid more than girls for the same amount of education, completing the same job. The Economist recommends finding a way to supplement household incomes during times of drought and other times of low agricultural productivity in order to keep girls in school.

Within the past day, the news has been bombarded with stories about COAG (the Council of Australian Governments) and its first ever report on the progress for females in Australia. In a shocking turn of events, Australian girls tend to outperform boys in school, and more Australian women than men hold a bachelor degree. Men, however, dominate the job market in terms of pay and management/leadership positions. No matter how educated a woman is, bosses tend to hire more men. From a budgeting standpoint, this baffles me, because men are also paid more to do the same job as women. Wouldn’t they prefer to hire women?

This is unfortunate proof for The Economist’s article. Australia, a generally contemporary society and one of the top world powers, has not yet been able to overcome the gender gap. Why, then, should countries such as Uganda be convinced to invest in their girls, when their boys will earn more money and be more capable to help support the family? This proves female education is a global issue. Until there is proof that women can be equally as successful as men in the job market, it is likely boys’ education will continue to be valued more than girls’.

Tovey, J. (2013, November 20). COAG report: girls ahead at school but women lag in pay stakes. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/coag-report-girls-ahead-at-school-but-women-lag-in-pay-stakes-20131119-2xt8x.html.

The economics of sexual inequality. (2013, November 2). The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21588927-new-research-hints-better-method-ensure-girls-africa-stay-school-when.

Björkman-Nyqvist, M. (2013). Income shocks and gender gaps in education: Evidence from Uganda. Journal of Development Economics, 105, 237-253. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304387813001120.

Free school buses: a practical and transformative solution for Indian girls

As the 2015 MDG target approaches, nations are increasingly concerned with achieving universal primary education. Since the Millennium Development Goal 2 states the need for universal primary education, many states and aid agencies have focused their recent attention on young children. While primary school serves as the educational foundation, it is critical that states and organizations also focus on improving access to secondary school and beyond.

The article, “Educate girls to alleviate poverty” highlights the fact that primary school enrollment rates have improved, but girls continue to face challenges in accessing secondary school. The article further explains that gender gaps tend to increase as students age, citing estimates that women in South Asia have about half as many years of schooling as their male counterparts. Even though more girls are enrolled in primary school, it is critical for them to have opportunities to further their education in secondary school. The piece calls for greater emphasis on improving access to education, specifically post primary schooling for females.

The article, “Bringing education to girls, on buses,” focuses on a practical solution to the issue of access. Pranab Saikia explains that many girls from rural villages surrounding Gurgaon, a city near New Delhi, were forced to leave school early because lacked a safe way to travel to school. Recognizing that it is not necessarily practical or realistic to build schools in every village for teenage girls, a local resident, Rakesh Daultabad raised money to provide free buss services for the young women. To date, three buses transport approximately 350 young women from their rural homes to their school in the city. This article highlights the fact that sometimes in education, the solution can be as simple as providing a school bus in order for students to safely travel to school.

After reading this article about buses, I was first struck by how such an obvious and simple solution can have a dramatic influence on a young woman’s life. While bus services are a practical solution, I would have liked to know how the founder, Rakesh Daultabad gained the trust of parents to transport their children. I would imagine that many parents would be skeptical of permitting their daughters from traveling to the city with strangers, especially males.

Additionally, while I agree that access to education and school enrollment is important, it is only one aspect of education reform. Attending school is not enough. It is imperative that students receive a high quality education in school. Simply transporting to student to school is not enough to ensure that they develop the necessary skills to become successful adults in the future. Schools must be improved and teachers must deliver quality lessons and learning opportunities. The Azim Premji Foundation is working to address the issue of quality in India through teacher training programs, curriculum building, school leader training and examination reforms.

In order for us to truly reform global education, and specifically education for girls, we must value and implement both practical approaches, such as Daultabad’s buses, to increase access, as well as the Azim Premji Foundation’s approach to improve the quality of schools, teachers and administrators. If we can focus on both access and quality, then there will be potential for true reform.

Sources:

Chelala, Cesar (2013, October 19). Educate girls to alleviate poverty. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved from http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/10/19/educate-girls-to-alleviate-poverty/.

Saikia, Pranab (2013, November 10). Bringing education to girls, on buses. Times of India. Retrieved from http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-10/gurgaon/43885288_1_20-villages-girl-students-higher-education.

Yemen ranks 136th out of 136 countries for gender parity

Recently I wrote about Costa Rica and its position in the 2013 Global Gender Gap Index, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). While Costa Rican officials have acknowledged the truth behind their low score in female economic participation and have addressed the ways in which they plan to resolve this situation, Yemeni leaders have failed to recognize and address their position year after year.

Since the Index was established in 2006, Yemen has consistently placed last among all ranked nations. This year, Yemen placed 136th out of 136 nations in gender equality in terms of economic participation/opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. As the Index has expanded, beginning with 115 countries and growing to 136 countries within seven years, Yemen has been pushed further down the list and has unfailingly come in last place.

According to Samar Qaed and the Yemen Times, 86 countries have reduced their gender gaps for political participation since last year’s Index was released. This is one of the weakest areas of women’s rights in Yemen. As many of you may know, Yemen experienced an uprising in 2011 as an extension to the Arab Spring, though Yemen’s revolution was less publicized in the Western world due to its peaceful nature. The revolution began as a protest against unemployment, the poor economy, and political corruption, and as months progressed, thousands of Yemeni women risked protesting in the streets in hopes of political reform and gaining equal rights in every aspect. Apparently, as reflected in Yemen’s ranking again this year, these efforts had little-to-no effect on laws or the political system in general.

HOWEVER, upon closer reflection, Yemen does not actually place last in any of the four categories used in the Index ranking system! It ranks 131st in terms of the gender gap for economic participation and opportunity, 134th for the educational attainment gap, 81st for health and survival, and 131st for political empowerment. How, then, has the WEF determined that Yemen belongs in last place?

Short statistics lesson: (If you have no interest and wish to take the WEF’s Index at face value, skip to the following paragraph.) Apparently, a statistically complex system is implemented during which sub-indices within each of the four categories are weighted based on variation and standard deviation, and then the four scores from the sub-indices are averaged. This makes sense. While Yemen’s gender parity statistics for health and educational attainment were 97.27% and 69.8%, respectively, its parity percentages for economic participation and political empowerment were 35.77% and 2.27%, respectively. An average of these four measures of parity probability gives us Yemen’s overall parity score of 51.28%, which is the lowest overall score out of all 136 nations represented.

Writer and journalist Naderah Abdulqadus explains that the gender gap expanded after the Yemeni unification in 1990. She says that, in South Yemen, there were laws guaranteeing women’s social rights, which protected girls from child marriages, teenage pregnancy, and (indirectly) low educational attainment. These laws were annulled upon unification with North Yemen. Additionally, Amal Al-Makhdi, National Dialogue Conference (NDC) representative for the Houthi political wing, asserts that women in rural areas are still unpaid for the work they do, giving them no incentive to stay in school.

If I have learned anything within recent months here at UPenn, it is that educational attainment is the foundation for all growth. Education leads to greater career opportunity, which leads to higher economic participation. Education gives citizens incentive to vote because they are able to understand the issues and the platforms, and they are interested in bettering their nation. Additionally, education has been proven on numerous occasions to lead to better health and survival outcomes due to knowledge about nutrition, disease, pregnancy, and childbirth. It seems that provision of education infrastructure, as Al-Makhadi suggests, could lead to increased gender parity. Now the question is: Is that what the Yemeni government wants?

Qaed, S. (2013, November 12). Palpable disparity: ‘Opportunities afforded to women are not many’. Yemen Times. Retrieved from http://www.yementimes.com/en/1728/report/3120/Palpable-disparity-%E2%80%98Opportunities-afforded-to-women-are-not-many%E2%80%99.htm.

New all female university in Saudi Arabia

Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

In 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia created the Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) in Riyadh, the largest women’s university in the world.  The article, “This gorgeous campus is the world’s largest women’s university – and it’s in Saudi Arabia,” highlights the many design features of the 32 million square foot university.

The campus includes sporting facilities, a medical center, research centers and a K-12 school and because of its architectural design, women are permitted to de-veil on the campus. The buildings were designed to meet the structural needs of modern learning with an emphasis on flexible space and environments that are conducive to team-based learning. The university’s design combines modern design elements with a traditional aesthetic to ensure that women can learn in an environment that respects cultural practice.

While the university is celebrated as a symbol of Saudi Arabia’s push for improved female education, simply providing high quality education does not immediately lead to change for women in the workforce. Abeer Allam in the article “Saudi Arabia’s women graduate’s hit ‘walls of tradition,’http://www.fastcoexist.com/3020619/this-gorgeous-campus-is-the-worlds-largest-womens-university-and-its-in-saudi-arabia#1” highlights to challenges that face female university graduates in Saudi Arabia. Despite a recent emphasis on increased female participation in the economy, he explains that “educated women, whether graduates of local or overseas universities, face a daunting mismatch between their skills and available jobs when they return home or leave education.” Often times, female graduates are not hired due to traditional cultural norms, as well as the high cost to employ women due to gender segregation accommodations that companies must implement. In order for women to become fully integrated into the economy, steps must be taken to ensure they are employed.

The article further explains that Saudi Arabia is increasingly emphasizing female education as a means for modernization and economic diversification. While the idea of modernization is typically viewed as a positive step for development, we must tread with caution to make sure that modernization is not a movement to become more western. PNU, in its architectural design and services, seems to be providing students with a quality education that considers local practices, though despite this, women continue to face issues with unemployment.  Hopefully, by equipping females with marketable skills and knowledge, PNU will serve as a catalyst for change by enabling women to become not only employed, but at a level that matches their training.

Too often education and literacy (which can encompass a broad range of skills) are viewed as a panacea for change. While improving girls’ access to education is critical, education is simply a means for achieving change. Education enables change, but does not automatically fix problems. In the case of Saudi Arabia, by establishing a world-class female university, the country is taking a step towards increased female opportunity in the formal economy. As Schwartz stated, “PNU is both beautiful and a place from which larger things might spring.” If Saudi Arabia truly wants increased female participation in the formal economy, further steps must be taken to make their education worthwhile.

Sources:

Allam, Abeer (2013, October 20). Saudi Arabia’s women graduate’s hit ‘walls of tradition.’ The Financial Times. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fd900f22-1af5-11e3-87da-00144feab7de.html#axzz2jsaaBwnA.

Schwartz, Ariel (2013, October 29). This gorgeous campus is the world’s largest women’s university – and it’s in Saudi Arabia. Co.Exist. Retrieved from http://www.fastcoexist.com/3020619/this-gorgeous-campus-is-the-worlds-largest-womens-university-and-its-in-saudi-arabia#3

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

Sources:

Barawid, R. (2013, October 10). Girl Rising. Manila bulletin. Retrieved from http://www.mb.com.ph/girl-rising/

USAID (2013, October 31). Girl rising partnership in India [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.usaid.gov/news-information/press-releases/oct-31-2013-girl-rising-partnership-india.

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.

Sources:

Toner, K. (2013, October 11). Woman challenges tradition, brings change to her Kenyan village. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/14/world/africa/cnnheroes-ntaiya-girls-school/index.html

Bloch, H. (2013, October 29) Kakenya ntaiya: bringing education to kenya’s girls. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131029-kakenya-ntaiya-kenya-cnn-hero-educating-girls-malala-yousafzai/?rptregcta=reg_free_nprptregcampaign=20131016_rw_membership_n1p_us_se_w#finished