As sorority women, we learn that we are forces to be reckoned with.
We learn that we are capable of absolutely anything.
We learn that being a woman is a blessing, not a curse.
However, in so many other countries across the world, these are not the messages being sent to young women. Instead, they are being told that they are unworthy of a quality education, that they don’t have a role in society outside of the household, and that they are truly second-class citizens. We, as Peace Corps Volunteers worldwide, have accepted the challenge of introducing gender equitable practices in our classrooms, our workplaces, and our households abroad. We see the importance of an educated and passionate workforce composed of both men and women. We know that girls and boys are capable of pursuing whatever career path they desire regardless of the “gendered implications” it might hold. Luckily, First Lady Michelle Obama is passionate about this too and worked with Peace Corps to create a program known as “Let Girls Learn“.
Let Girls Learn is an initiative that is geared toward providing quality and safe educational spaces for girls across the world to learn in. This program is currently being piloted in more than 35 countries throughout Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central America. Peace Corps Volunteers work with girls (and boys) in their communities to create safer and more productive educational spaces by promoting gender awareness, equitable practices and mutual respect. By empowering these young women and encouraging them to pursue their dreams, we are contributing to a more tolerant and equitable society.
Some of the ways that I have introduced gender equitable practices into my classroom is by asking questions in a boy-girl-boy-girl sequence as well as creating PowerPoints that showcase both women and men in various occupations. In the textbooks that we use, men and women are presented in very stereotypical gender roles in terms of careers: men are plumbers and computer scientists while women are secretaries and teachers. I chose to create a presentation to show to my students that has both men and women plumbers, men and women computer scientists, men and women secretaries, etc.
Let Girls Learn in Moldova
Moldova still operates under patriarchal norms: the man is the head of the household and the woman’s role is to be at home, take care of the family, cook dinner, do dishes and do laundry. Many women do work outside the home here (teachers, shop assistants, hair dressers), but they are still expected to come home and do 100% of the housework. Young girls in Moldova often see incredibly successful women on TV, but many of them have decided that they could never achieve anything like that because Moldovan girls just aren’t capable. Very often, when women in Moldova are extremely successful in non-feminine careers (politics, law enforcement, etc.), they are labeled as undesirable for marriage, which is a socially ostracizing comment in this culture. They often have their abilities and credibility questioned if they are not married or do not have children, which limits the dreams of young girls across the country.
Yesterday, during a conversation with some of my 12th grade students (all girls), they expressed frustration with the gender roles in their current society. They told me that they desperately wanted to achieve their goals and live their lives without being discriminated against or held back because they are women. They want to be seen as equals, not subordinates. These sentiments are exactly why Let Girls Learn exists in Moldova: women are significantly better educated than men, but are severely underrepresented in the workforce all because of their gender. My student’s minds were blown when I told them that women were firefighters in the United States…it never even occurred to them that women could be employed in such a perceived masculine profession. It was at that point that I saw a spark alight in their eyes. They were capable of anything…even if they are “just girls.”
I have been raised to believe that I can achieve anything, regardless of gender, so this is a program that I hold near and dear to my heart. Each and every one of the 62 million girls who are not receiving adequate education right now absolutely deserve it and I cannot think of a better challenge to accept during my Peace Corps service.
I want these young women to know that they are…
Forces to be reckoned with.
Capable of anything.
Blessed to be strong, determined, and beautiful women.
Here is a video from PBS about Let Girls Learn and our mission: