No matter where you are in the world, gender inequality exists in varying degrees. Every girl has had to face a barrier at least once in their lifetime, no matter how big or small, that was purely because of her gender. Unfortunately, this is out of our control as women, but what is in our control, is how we face these barriers and how we overcome them. Suma, Mariama, and Amina are three examples of girls in different countries facing different barriers, but are all barriers routed in sexism.
Until 2000, kamlari (bonded laborers) were legal in Nepal, and many young girls were forced to become one. One example, was six year old Suma who was “sold” in order to make sure that she would always have a place to live, food to eat, etc. Poverty leads to desperate measures for many families, and her parents were trying to give her a better life.
Over her childhood years, she worked as a servant for a number of families instead of being sent to school like her brother. While bonded to her first master, she cleaned the house, washed dishes, tended to the younger children, and other similar chores. Her second master called her “unlucky child”, fed her scraps, clothed her in rags, and fed her scraps from their dirty plates.
When Suma was eleven years old, her third master allowed her to take night classes with social workers to learn how to read and write, and this was the best thing that ever happened to her. The social workers realized the situation she was in, and went to her master’s house every single day threatening to turn him in, until he finally agreed to free her. Because of Suma’s hard work and perseverance, kamlaris are decreasing greatly. She has helped many young girls like herself be freed and take their lives into their own hands.
Mariama, in Sierra Leone, has a very unusual family situation, but the prejudices against her gender are very relatable. Her dad died when she was very young, and in her culture, the widow either has to stay a widow, or marry one of the other men in the family. Mariama’s uncle married her mother and became her stepfather. Her stepfather fell in love with another woman and decided to marry her two, causing Mariama to have two mothers.
It had always been her dream to host a TV show, so when she received the opportunity to host a radio show, she was thrilled. Her show focused on helping other girls with their problems, and she was very successful. Her stepfather started being criticized for letting her have a show and stay out late with her friends. It “wasn’t a girl thing to do”, or “wasn’t a girl job”--but it was perfectly acceptable for a boy to do.
Succumbing to peer pressure, he forced her to quit. When he was younger, if a girl attended school, it meant that she was defying her parents, so although he let Mariama get an education, he felt uneasy about having her on air. Her mother convinced him to change his mind and let her back on the show, and she overcame the societal peer pressure and stereotypes. Mariama could continue to give other girls advice and help them to the best of her ability.
In Afghanistan, being a girl is extremely dangerous. The third girl could not reveal her real name or her face, out of fear of getting killed, so she went by “Amina”. Her mother sobbed out of disappointment when she gave birth to a little girl instead of boy. Beginning at only three years old, Amina worked for her family and learned early to serve.
As a young girl, Amina always wanted to learn, but education was not a safe option for her, or any girl really. She received only a few short years of education, before her arranged marriage when she was eleven years old. Her parents sold her to one of their cousins for $5,000, enough to buy her older brother a used car. In Afghanistan, after marriage a woman can no longer show her face, and must wear a blue veil at all times with no mouth hole to speak out of--she becomes muted.
On the night after her wedding, she became pregnant and later would give birth to a son. More women die giving birth in Afghanistan than any other country, so she considered herself to be one of the lucky ones. Still, education was all that she could think about. Amina stayed strong to reach her seemingly impossible goal, and one day she ran away. She withstood the odds against her, and now there are more girls in school in Afghanistan than ever before. She, and many like her, is an inspiration to so many young girls that they too can work for the opportunities that men get handed.
In all three examples, the disadvantages that girls face are very clear. It can be as simple as societal peer pressure, or as dangerous as an arranged marriage or slavery. No form of gender inequality is acceptable, yet in so many places, girls are forced to accept it. I am definitely one of the very lucky ones.
In my life, I’m taught to stand up for myself and prove that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. I am encouraged to work hard and show that girls can truly do anything boys can do, but even I face prejudices towards my gender frequently. Because I’m a girl, people assume that I am weak, both mentally and physically.
Even in a country like the US, which is fairly progressive towards women’s rights, women still face challenges every day. People assume that you’re a nurse, not a doctor. People assume you’re a stay at home mom, not the CEO of a company. People assume that you can just marry rich and have a good life, not that you want to work for every penny you make, and accomplish something great while doing it. Being a woman is being surrounded by false assumptions, and hopefully one day we won’t have to prove ourselves anymore.
There is nothing wrong with being a nurse, or being a mother, but what is wrong is the fact that as a woman, we are labelled into these “pink collar” jobs, instead of the capable and strong minded people we are. Suma, Mariama, and Amina are true inspirations, and people that other young girls should strive to be like--they were all determined hard workers for their goals and overcame gender boundaries to begin accomplishing them.