In India, when a girl is born, her parents start saving up. Buying gold, opening fixed deposit accounts, you name it. You’ll now be thinking, “That’s wonderful! Such loving parents ❤“. Well, think again.
Here’s a clue – this is NOT her college fund.
They are saving for her (eventual) marriage!
Amusing, right? Why would parents worry about a wedding, when a baby is just born? Shouldn’t they be thinking along the lines of, “Who will wake up for the 3am feed?“, ” What are we going to name her?“, “Look at her tiny nose and fingers and toes!“, “Oh, she is sooo cute!” ????. Sure these thoughts are in their minds. Along with gems like, “OMG! How do we pay for her wedding?” and “I must guard her like a hawk so she doesn’t ‘besmirch’ the family name“. Because, in India, a family’s reputation rests solely on the frail shoulders of the little baby girl!! ????
A vast majority of the Indian subcontinent still prefer a son. I know some folks whose faces fell, right after hearing they had a healthy baby girl. And some others, who preferred not to marry from a family consisting entirely of daughters – because – the women may not be capable of producing a male child! Imagine such thoughts, in this day and age!
A girl is a responsibility to the Indian family. Even if her parents don’t see it that way, the relatives will ensure that her parents eventually fall into this line of thinking. She is on ‘loan’ to them, and her ‘real home’ is supposedly with her husband (and in-laws). Her parents’ duty is simply to ensure she is brought up a well-mannered woman, who doesn’t bring a ‘bad name’ to the family.
From the time she can walk and talk, she hears – “Sit properly!” , “Cross your legs when seated!“, “Stop playing in the sun, no one likes a girl with dark skin“. If she fools around too much, then it is, “You are a girl! Behave like one“. I am curious – is there an instruction manual to explain life rules that apply to females of Indian descent? ????
According to local wisdom, an educated girl may become too ‘difficult to handle‘ after marriage ????. Subscribers to this archaic theory believe that, once educated, a woman may begin to think for herself and not silently accept everything dumped on her. When educated, it is often so she can secure a good match (read ‘husband’), rather than for her benefit or so she can support herself in life.
At home, she is ‘privileged‘ to learn the secrets of cooking and cleaning along with her mother. Her brother is frequently given a free-pass by parents citing, “Oh, he has lots to study“. Obviously a boy’s education is more important than a girl’s, and he doesn’t need to spend time learning life skills! And this ideology imparted to him in childhood towards girls, carries on for the rest of his life.
After working so hard for an education, does she get to pursue a job? Not necessarily. She may have a great job before marrying. After marriage, her holding a ‘job’ may be deemed unsuitable to her husband’s family circumstances. So much so that in India, this is a question of paramount importance to ask the groom’s family when they come to ‘see’ her as part of the bride-seeing ceremony. A strange family decides whether a woman gets to go to work while her own family watches in silence, and tells her “Just adjust my dear. It’s for your good future”.
I know women who were brilliant at their jobs, and then settled down to a life of domestic duties after marriage. Why? Because their husbands didn’t want a wife who went out to work. I know girls who were stopped from learning to dance – all in the name of “What will others’ think?“. Choosing to stop doing something that brings them joy, or to stop working and supporting themselves as they no longer felt fulfilled by it, is something the woman should be able to decide. But having to cave in to pressure from others, and then being made to feel like it was their own choice and for the good of the family – this is how many women are put under invisible shackles by society.
What of women who decide they want to choose their own partner? God forbid! Either cast out, labelled black sheep of the family, or both – she is forever a warning to future generations.
Alright. Now the Indian daughter is (presumably) enjoying wedded bliss. What’s next?
A month into marriage, well-intentioned relatives descend
like locusts and ask that dreaded question – “Vishesham vallathum undo?“. Apologies for reverting to my mother-tongue, for there is no other phrase that sounds perfectly innocuous and yet deadly to the new bride! The literal translation is “Is there any news?”. The so-called ‘news’ everyone is awaiting is that of her pregnancy. Regardless of the answer, there is nothing for them to do; but they will persist in asking the question every time they meet the girl or her parents. Strangely enough, they don’t usually ask this to her husband. Hmm….must be because human pregnancies are achieved via parthenogenesis*????
Continuing the family line also seems to be the sole responsibility of a woman. Women are often blamed for failing to give birth to the all-so-desired male ‘heir’. This must be why women are referred to as ‘goddesses’ by the Indian media, since a woman can apparently choose the sex of her unborn child. Many families have persisted in producing progeny till the desired gender (i.e. male) could be achieved, regardless of how many times the woman had to give birth to attain this state.
And thus the vicious cycle begins anew.
Sometimes, the sole purpose of an Indian woman appears to be: be born, stay home, be good and obedient; marry; stay at her ‘real home’ and be good and obedient; and bear sons.
I’ve heard it on a movie once – “Akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai” – meaning that a girl by herself is like an open safe. She is (supposedly) game for anyone. She must virtually fear for her life if she goes out after dark. In spite of being a country that prides itself on its cultural richness, many men haven’t imbibed that ‘culture’. To them, culture is a woman who stays home after night, has no boyfriends and marries at the right age to someone chosen by their family. If ever found alone or with a member of the opposite sex (maybe she is hurrying home after a day of classes or work, or after buying groceries, or even after a movie with friends) at night, then she is the antithesis of their ‘culture’ who must be punished and ostracised.
What I’ve described here is merely a tip of many icebergs faced by women in India everyday. There are visible and invisible restrictions imposed on them – through family, society, religion, employers, legislation, and even by self.
Is there an escape? Will anything ever change?
Maybe. If parents mold sons into men that respect women, and do not objectify them.
Maybe. If women of the country stop accepting the current state of affairs, and try to change the system by being the change.
Maybe. If men were to challenge the patriarchy that diminishes a woman’s rights, and support them more.
Maybe. If society stops accepting men/boy with the adage “Boys will be boys”, and instead hold them accountable for their actions.
It will take the concerted effort of several generations and education, before women can even hope to be freed from several of these confinements. But most of all, I think, women must begin standing up for themselves and other women to break off the chains. Unless we want something for ourselves, no one else will want it for us.
Be the light for others to follow.
*parthenogenesis: human conception without fertilisation by man
Would you raise your child differently from the culture you grew up in because of his/her gender?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by World Mom Veena Davis of Singapore.
The other day, a fellow mom and I were seated outside, basking in the warm Kenyan sunshine as our children played. We both have two sons, each aged 3 years and 5 years. Our boys were playing in a group of 11 children – six girls and five boys.
Their play area was quite muddy and so were their shoes, as it had rained just a few hours before. But as the weather changed from the warm sunshine into a windy, cloudy affair, with signs of the skies soon opening up again, we instructed the children to each wipe the mud off their shoes before proceeding into the house. Time for play was up!
While the girls immediately began wiping the mud off their shoes, the boys continued running around, begging for more time in the playing field. They even argued that it would ‘be much more fun’ to play in the rain. Their joy lasted for a few more minutes before they finally gave up, realizing that we were not going to relent. They then sat down, disappointed, but nevertheless ready to begin wiping the mud off their feet. But it really got my neighbor and I thinking.
No sooner had the boys begun working on their shoes, than the girls swiftly started doing it for them. Quite effortlessly, they asked the boys to relax, that they would do clean the mud off their shoes for them.
That surprised us!
Our instructions had been very clear – that each child was to wipe the mud off their own shoes.
But it happened so mechanically, so swiftly, that the girls, aged between 5 – 8 years, took it upon themselves to wipe not only their own shoes, but those of the boys too. And to be honest, the boys looked like they were not going to protest the offer at their disposal. Even though we quickly stopped the girls from going ahead and instructed the boys to undertake the chore themselves, it got us thinking: why do women (and girls) instinctively feel the need to wait on boys and men? Is it automatic? Are we born with it? Is it in our DNA? Or perhaps it’s cultural? Could it be how we were raised? Are we raising our daughters this way? Or is this how we are raising our sons: to be more than accepting to have girls and women always wait on them?
The episode took me back to a conversation that I had recently with my colleagues. Why does it happen that when in meetings, when tea time arrives, many women feel the urge to serve the men tea, even though they are all equals in that meeting? Even when she doesn’t feel like it, she just feels as though it’s her responsibility to do so?
When a fellow board member says he is thirsty and could do with a glass of water, why is it almost always that the woman will unconsciously rise up to pour the man a glass of water, and not only stop there but go ahead to ask other men around the room if they’ll have some water too, then pour it for them? Why do we impulsively feel the need to serve men, even when it’s not necessary to do so? Is it something that we learn from our childhood? Is it instilled in us?
The incident of our sons and their girl playmates was quite revealing, I must say. How are we raising our daughters? How are we raising our sons?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama of Mummy Tales in Kenya.
Photo courtesy of Women Deliver / Flickr.
Last April, I traveled to Nicaragua, staying in the Chinandega, Managua and Granada regions of the country. I have traveled to many places, but never to Central America so I was really excited to embark on this new adventure. Nicaragua is famous for its volcanoes (including volcano boarding) and its amazing waterfront beaches where surfing is a must. It’s rich history, unique culture and incredible people make it an idea travel destination.
But Nicaragua has undergone many transformations over the years, rebuilding from internal unrest and strained global relations. Almost half of the Nicaraguan population lives below the poverty line. People struggle to provide the basic necessities to their children, and for many young girls, this can mean having to miss school when their periods start.
Just before going to Nicaragua, I met an amazing woman, Brenda Porter, living in my community who runs the local chapter of ‘Days for Girls’. I had never heard of the organization before reading about Brenda in the local newspaper. As the name suggests, Brenda and her countless volunteers, dedicate most of their free time to making and assembling sustainable menstruation kits, that are then brought all over the world to communities in need. With access to the menstruation kits, girls can attend school all year round, not missing school because of their periods. Missing a week of school per month has a huge impact on the educational success of girls. It means they are put at a disadvantage as soon as puberty hits. I connected with Brenda, and with the support of my friends, travel companions and Brenda’s incredible ‘Days for Girls’ network, I was able to bring two suitcases full of menstruation kits to Nicaragua free of charge.
With the help of the owners of the eco-resort I stayed at, El Coco Loco, we were put in touch with an American nurse’ Margarite (Meg), who runs a health clinic in a rural area outside Chinandega (http://coenicaragua.weebly.com/). She was thrilled to receive the kits and held a sexual education clinic for local village girls before distributing the kits. She was so overwhelmed by the response of local girls to the kits, and had no idea that there was such a need in the community.
Days For Girls
Days for Girls is a global organization. If you are travelling to countries where girls may be in need of the menstruation kits, I highly recommend reaching out to this wonderful organization. No girl should be put at a disadvantage in school when her period starts. And, if you have a local chapter nearby, please consider donating time to help cut material, sew pads and assemble kits.
For more information, please visit: www.daysforgirls.org
This is an original post by Alison Fraser who is Founder and Director of Mom2Mom Africa.
Picture Credits to the author
Lack of sanitation. Universal education. Poverty. Global Health. How is it possible to introduce a group of 70 kids about some of the world’s largest problems and how to solve them in one night — plus make it fun?
Well, last month I helped organize “World Thinking Day” for the Girl Scouts in my town of Holmdel in New Jersey, USA. The day was celebrated on or around February 22nd by Girl Scouts and Girl Guides in 146 countries, and the theme for 2016 established by the Girl Scouts was “Connect.” As a Girl Scout volunteer and a global activist, World Thinking Day was where my worlds were about to collide!
To start, the idea of connecting the girls with what problems to be solved came from this viral Google quote I found in my Facebook feed one day:
“Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up but what problems do they want to solve.” YES!! In order to inspire future problem solvers, we needed to find some problems. And it’s actually not difficult to find the world’s most pressing problems — there’s a list!
We ran straight to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are the 17 global goals world leaders set out to achieve to help eradicate poverty and make the planet a better place. And With Girl Scouts that ranged in age from 5-years old to high school teenagers, we needed presentations and activities incorporating some of the goals which would keep their wide range of interests and attention spans!
We chose to introduce the girls to the concepts of SDGs 1-6: no poverty, no hunger, good health, quality education, gender equality and clean water and sanitation with the help of Save the Children, WaterAID and a kit purchased from Sole Hope.
On the day, 70 girls rotated through four World Thinking Day stations. Two stations were “presentation” stations and two were “maker” stations, where the girls would be hands-on. Upon arrival, we had tables set up in the center of the room for the girls to convene with their troops and have a snack. They also received their schedules of what station their troop would visit and in what order. Before beginning the rotations, we started the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance and the Girl Scout Promise. Then, they were off!
World Thinking Day Presentation Stations
We invited Save the Children and WaterAID to the event to present to the girls. Each brought a slide presentation and projector, and their enthusiasm for the work they do was relevant in how fantastically they engaged with the girls. They were introduced to how global nonprofits were applying solutions to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.
Save the Children
At the Save the Children station, girls learned how the organization helps children in over 120 countries. They were shown photos of what classrooms look like before the organization goes in and after. Save the Children is creating better, safer learning environments for children around the globe.
Carmen from Save the Children educating a troop of Cadettes about their programs worldwide that are making a difference in the lives of children.
In 2014 Save the Children helped over 160 million children worldwide! Being kids themselves, the really related to helping children and the photos of seeing the organization in action were engaging.
“It was cool because you can also help one kid who needs help at Save the Children.” — Sophie, Brownie (on sponsorship)
At the WaterAID station, the girls had the opportunity to line up and try to carry a jerry can half full of water and imagine what it would be like if they had to carry that can to fetch water for their family. They also learned how over 1 billion people do not have access to a toilet on the planet!
Manuel and Merry from WaterAID presenting to a Daisy Troop about how their organization helps communities gain access to clean water.
WaterAID explained why clean water is important to prevent disease and how so many people around the world lack access to it. They introduced the girls to ways in which their organization is making an impact in creating access to clean water in different countries.
A Girl Scout Cadette attempts lifting a jerry can half filled with water at the WaterAID station for World Thinking Day. These containers are a way in which some children around the world fetch for waters for their families.
“I was surprised how heavy the yellow container was, and it was only half filled. How do kids carry that?” — Sophie, Brownie
World Thinking Day Maker Stations
World Mom and Anti-poverty mom, Cindy Levin, introduced me to Sole Hope, an organization whose goal is to provide shoes to children who need them most to prevent infection. I ordered a party kit online, and we asked the troops for donations of denim. At the station, the girls learned about how going barefoot can lead to painful foot parasites in some places on the globe. They cut patterns out of the old jeans and plastic that would be made into shoes for children in Uganda.
A Girl Scout Junior troop measures out patterns for cutting out shoes for children in Uganda out of recycled denim and plastic.
We also showed the girls photos of what the finished products would look like.
“I loved helping to make the shoes. They are so cute!” — Brownie, Ally
Girl Scouts’ SWAPS
What’s a Girl Scout event without making SWAPS? SWAPS are an old tradition of exchanging keepsakes among fellow Girl Scouts met while traveling. The acronym stands for “Special Whatchamacallits Affectionately Pinned Somewhere.” The girls were led in making keepsakes to commemorate World Thinking Day 2016. Their SWAPS included gold and silver puzzle pieces to commemorate connecting with friends, as the lyrics go:
“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold!”
Girl Scouts creating at the SWAPS station to commemorate World Thinking Day!
It was so fun to intertwine the UN’s global goals for the planet into the Girl Scouts’ World Thinking Day. We were able to introduce over 70 girls to problems that children like themselves face around the world and they had the opportunity to meet some of the change makers that are providing solutions on the global stage — we definitely gave the girls something to think about!
(After all was said and done, our town’s Girl Scouts had some money left over from the event that they chose to donate to both, Save the Children and WaterAID, too!)
Do you have a Girl Scout or Girl Guide who participated in World Thinking Day this year? Let us know what they did to commemorate the day!
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Jennifer Burden, who is the founder and CEO of World Moms Blog. *Special thanks to Leaders, Janice Petretti and Heather Behal who also helped plan the event!
Photo credits to the author.
Chibok Girls Remain in Captivity
Hmmmmm…today is Christmas, as I write this, and for many all over the world it’s time for félicitation, a time for merriment and sharing. But for our Chibok girls and their families, it’s time to wail and cry silently, while putting up a brave face for the whole world.
Freedom of worship is what a lot of us take for granted. A confirmed right, but for our #ChibokGirls, alas, it is not so. Most of them we heard have been converted to Islam. Islam doesn’t need forced converts. There is no compulsion in religion says God in Qur’an Chapter 2 verse 256.
Why, then, would someone take girls, who, even in the rules of war islamically, are never to be attacked? And forcefully convert them to Islam?
World Mom, Aisha Yesufu, speaks as activists gather in Abuja continuing to demand the rescue of the 219 Chibok Girls captured in April 2013 in Nigeria.
While others enjoy Christmas, our Chibok girls are weeping silently in their hearts. They probably do not even know that today is Christmas. That would be the worst.
For 620 days our Chibok girls have been in captivity. Mocked by their captors that no one would come, and, indeed, no one did.
Our Chibok girls have had to spend another Christmas in captivity, while the world moved on and forgets that 620 days ago the lives of 219 Chibok girls were frozen in a nightmare they never envisioned. They were captured by Boko Haram when they set out to get an education. Young, educated girls, whose empowered voice the terrorists found threatening.
For daring to have a mind of their own by getting an education, they have been put in bondage for 620 days.
How are Chibok parents faring during this day of festivities knowing that their precious daughters are with monsters who have no drop of humanity in them?
How do they cope thinking of all the atrocities their daughters have had to endure this past 620 days? Ahhhhh…they must die a thousand deaths everyday imagining what their daughters have had to go through.
While many in the world are waking up today after celebrating Christmas with their family and friends, please remember the 219 #ChibokGirls who spent their second Christmas away from their loved ones and in captivity.
Please remember #ChibokParents who have had to celebrate a second Christmas without their daughters and struggle to put on a brave face for the other children. All so that the terrorists would not steal the joy of the season from their children the way in which they stole their daughters.
#BringBackOurGirls NOW & ALIVE
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Aisha Yesufu in Nigeria.
Photo credits to the author.