The Importance of Empowerment

A hot topic surrounding girl’s education and one that has been touched on in this blog before is empowering girls. Stories about the Doodle4Google depicting women empowerment in India and the encouraging word of Miss North Carolina touting girls’ empowerment float around the web and social media.

googledoodlewomenempower_140857393592_640x360

While these individual acts are noteworthy, an article about empowering girls was released  this week that is even more so.  The article opens with these words that I could not help but copying:

There is a Chinese proverb that says if your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years educate children.

These eloquent words were spoken by a 15 year old university student Maud Chifamba. I could not have said it so nice had I tried.

The article goes on to talk about Zimbabwe’s progress in closing the gender gap by 2015 to reach the Millennium Development Goals, a topic Dave covered a few weeks ago in his article, “’The Economist’ Discovers Gender Inequality in Education.” The Zimbabwe government realizes that it is far from reaching its goal so it created an empowerment policy, which addresses the challenges many girls within Zimbabwe face, such as education, economic empowerment, protection, leadership, and development.

While most article I’ve read focus on the importance of primary or pre-primary education, this one focuses on tertiary education, an area that I find too often ignored.  And though I find myself agreeing with the article, one statement that Childline ambassador Thamsanqa Moyo makes about foreign music and film’s influence.  She says, “It is unfortunate that most youths have access to bad foreign music and films they download from the internet which makes them develop a negative culture.” She goes on to say that the government should promote local music, which is something I can agree with, is it fair to blame the outside culture for the problems within a culture.  Does the hip-hop music make them develop a negative culture? I think not, and while many of the lyrics disgust me, I would not go so far as to say that they are the agents of this negative culture surrounding women.  Society itself is to blame in most cases.

Later in the article, a child writer and poet describes what needs to change within Zimbabwe’s culture, not what they are importing from abroad.  Women need to be viewed as adults who are able to take care of themselves, not as children who need to be subjected by male dominance.  The environment that girls grow up in needs to change.  Girls need to be given the same opportunities as men and be seen as capable human beings who are valued in society for their possible contributions.  It is the climate of society within Zimbabwe, which obviously can relate to the misogynistic lyrics of many hip-hop songs, that needs to change.

I would like to end my last post with some pictures that were published by an all girls school in Kentucky entitled “You are not a Princess” to empower their girls.  Though they take a much different approach, one that many countries is not ready for, they are right on point in a sense that they say that girls need to be the agent of their own change and empowerment.  In a world full of Disney Princesses, the posters read:

o-DONT-WAIT-FOR-A-PRINCE-570

r-YOURE-NOT-A-PRINCESS-large570

The fact that these are being published by a school makes them all the better.  More schools need to embrace a progressive view such as this in our fight to empower women.

Sources used:

Bwanya, M. (2013, November 15). AllAfrica. allAfrica.com: Zimbabwe: Empowering Girls At All Costs (Page 1 of 3). Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://allafrica.com/stories/201311150350.

Cullers, R. (2013). Intriguing Ads Tell Young Girls: ‘You’re Not a Princess’ and ‘Life’s Not a Fairytale’ | Adweek. AdWeek. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/intriguing-ads-tell-young-girls-youre-not-princess-and-lifes-not-fairytale-153788

Fisher, H. (2013, November 14). Miss North Carolina offers message of empowerment to girls at North Rowan Middle. Salisbury Post. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://www.salisburypost.com/article/20131

Kanal, N. (2013, November 14). Pune girl’s women empowerment doodle on Google India today. Tech2. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://tech2.in.com/news/web-services/pune-girls-women-empowerment-doodle-on-google-india-today/920474

 

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.

Sources:

(October 25, 2013). I boys to men. The Voice. Retrieved from http://www.thevoicebw.com/2013/10/25/i-boys-to-men/.

Githinji, R. (October 16, 2013). MP warns teachers over sex with students. The Star. Retrieved from http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/article-139780/mp-warns-teachers-over-sex-students.

Xinhua (October 31, 2013). Zimbabwe teacher arrested for allegedly sodomizing 10 minors. Daily Monitor. Retrieved from http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/World/Zimbabwe-teacher-arrested-for-allegedly-sodomizing-10-minors/-/688340/2055128/-/umdy7t/-/index.html.