01 4 / 2013
"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."
01 4 / 2013
So, this will be my last post on the topic of women’s empowerment and I’d like to talk about where the men in our lives fit into all of this. I don’t want to be one of those feminists who scares men away or has the reputation of being a man-hater because it’s not smart and it’s not productive. I want to not only educate my girls but the boys as well. Although it is common to hear us girls say we don’t need men, it’s not true and it shouldn’t be true. We don’t need men who are abusive; we don’t need men who are chauvinistic; and we don’t need men who are unsupportive and nonchalant when it comes to these issues. What we do need are men who are supportive; men who realize the massive problems that exist in this field and want to help.
In order to get these kinds of men, our boys need to be educated. As a volunteer, we do boy’s empowerment conference as well as girl’s empowerment. One major topic at these events is gender issues and gender equality. You’d be surprised the kind of misconceptions that exist here; things that the boys don’t think twice about because of the way they were raised and the society they grew up in. For example, if I tell a man here that I don’t think I ever want to get married (which is not necessarily true- I just try to get creative in responding to marriage proposals), they think I am joking. They find the idea of an unmarried woman absolutely ridiculous. But, by simply sharing a new thought or starting a discussion, boys can begin to think in a different way and, best case scenario, this way of thinking will spread. Worst case, we have a few more boys that are educated in a way that is useful to this cause.
In most struggles for equality throughout history, help from the “other side” has been essential and, well, inspiring. I love hearing stories and seeing pictures of white people fighting for equality during the Civil Rights movement. I always wonder whether I would have been brave enough to do that. Just like then, we now need brave men to stand up and fight against the injustices that plague women across the globe. I think that when it comes to doing this, men can be harsh towards one another. Being a “feminist” man is seen as being wimpy and unmanly. This couldn’t be farther from the truth and this view needs to change. Real men are courageous enough to stand up to injustice and real men are brave enough to be humble.
01 4 / 2013
11 3 / 2013
So one of the topics covered in Half the Sky and mentioned throughout the book is forced prostitution and trafficking of women and girls. I have to admit, this is a topic I have avoided reading about in the past because, beside genocide, I think it is the most horrifying thing going on in our world today. Girls who are often too young to fathom, in astoundingly high numbers are being bought and sold like animals. They are used and abused with a kind of cruelty that makes me want to cry (and I did cry when I was reading about it). One thing that really stuck out to me when I was reading about this problem was the debate over how to begin to solve it. There is one group of people who believe that making prostitution legal, while monitoring it and controlling it through strict laws is the best solution. They use the example of prohibition as part of their argument. While another group believes that making prostitution illegal and destroying it completely is the best solution. I whole-heartily agree with the second group. If we want women to be liberated they need to be empowered. By letting prostitution remain legal we are doing the opposite of empowering. If girls and women live a place where this is tolerated they grow up learning that it is ok for women to be objectified and used; and the men and boys in their lives learn the same thing. I understand why some may argue for legalizing and controlling prostitution. It is probably a faster and simpler solution for a problem that is completely out of hand; a problem that we need to fix NOW, as women and girls and hurting NOW. But a large part of fixing a problem like this is all about starting a movement. Giving women the courage and confidence to stand up, say what they believe, and then do something about it. Keeping prostitution legal will only discourage and silence these voices.
05 3 / 2013
"You are Strong. You are Beautiful. You are Confident.”
“Wewe ni Hodari. Wewe ni Mzuri. Wewe unajiamini."
05 3 / 2013
So today I gave all of the girls in my school a flower and a note that said: “You are Strong. You are Beautiful. You are Confident.” As I was doing this, some teachers were carrying out a particularly harsh round of corporal punishment right outside my window. As I was trying to encourage my girls to speak up and not let anyone demean them, the people I work with were demeaning girls and breaking their self-esteem right then and there. It was a cruel irony and I decided to go with it. My students were obviously distracted by what was going on outside so I let them look. Actually, I told them to look and then I gave them a little speech. I told them that students often wonder why I do not hit them and this is why. When a teacher hits a student she/he feels sad and weak (and this is often compounded by the fact that the teacher feels and acts powerful, and takes advantage of that power). I told my students that I want to help them, especially the girls, to feel self-confident.
The girls in my school are already very timid. Just the other day I was asking for volunteers to read aloud in my Form I class and all of the volunteers were boys. So, I asked for only girls to raise their hands…no one did. One boy said “Madam, the girls are too scared.” Even he recognized the problem.
Getting girls to come to school is obviously a very important problem to address worldwide, and especially here in Africa. But another problem that needs to be addressed is what to do with them once they get here. I encourage my girls every day and build them up in every way that I can. It is a daily struggle, but it is a worthwhile challenge to tackle.
25 2 / 2013
"Young people often ask us how they can help address issues like sex trafficking and international poverty. Our first recommendation to them is to get out and see the world. If you can’t do that, it’s great to raise money or attention at home. But to tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it— and its impossible to understand an issue by simply reading about it. You need to see it first hand, even live in its midst."
25 2 / 2013
So I have been doing a lot of women’s/girl’s empowerment work lately. We are planning a girl’s empowerment conference for the end of April, we are preparing for International Women’s Day at my school, and I have really been trying to think of ways to motivate my class of all Form IV girls. In conjunction with all of this I have decided to read the book “Half the Sky” (a book I have been meaning to read, but have been avoiding because whenever I begin to read it I get both outraged and deeply sad. I am hoping this anger and sadness will now act as a motivator in a place and time when I could really use it).
Anyways, I would like to dedicate my next few posts to the issues of gender inequality and women’s empowerment. I think I will focus each post on a specific ethical dilemma within in these issues, drawing from both my work and recent reading.
This is an issue that is very close to my heart, and I don’t even really know why. It just riles me up! (Possibly it is in part due to the fact that I attended an all-women’s college). In the mean time, I hope these posts inspire you all to do something to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8.
P.S. The universe must approve of these posting plans. As I write this, I am sitting on a bus waiting to return to my village and a young Tanzanian girl just walked by group of young men. As she walked by, they began to harass her a bit (as is common here). But instead of ignoring it, this girl gave them some sass. I don’t know exactly what she was saying, but she was definitely telling them off. She even threw a rock their way and gave her butt a defiant shake as she walked away. Just the kind of boost I needed to keep reading this book.