When you take the time to step out of your own culture--where you’re surrounded by the beliefs and practices you’ve grown up with--you’re introduced to new ideas, and ones that may surprise you. Different countries have made different degrees of progress concerning a girl’s place in society, and some of this progress, or lack thereof, has been documented by the global campaign, Girl Rising. Following the stories of three girls living in countries with different social practices, we will explore and answer these essential questions:
How do cultural beliefs influence and affect a girl’s life? How are educational opportunities for girls tied to these beliefs?
Suma is a Nepali girl whose parents arranged for her to be “bonded” when she was younger, meaning that she would be forced into labor---to remain a slave, to remain a piece of property. Her experience was a traumatic one---one that is hard for her to speak about, even though the memories will remain with her forever. In an effort to cope with the pain and suffering she was put through, she would write songs to express her voice that had been suppressed in her bondage.
It is believed in her culture that women do not have the right to an education. While she works for her master, her brothers attend school. Even more extreme, the idea of giving birth to a girl is deemed “thoughtless.” Now free, Suma spreads awareness of the unjust treatment of girls in her culture, and undergoes training to become a medical assistant.
Suma grew up in a culture in which her only use is for that of manual labor. This identity assigned from birth takes away a girl’s voice--it takes away her worth, and it takes away her ability to learn and to live a life that is her own.
Mariama, Sierra Leone
Mariama is a girl from Sierra Leone whose dad passed away when she was young. Her uncle then married her mom, as was custom when a father died, and also married another woman. Mariama describes this as “the perfect family,” showing that polygamy is a practiced and accepted part of her culture. Unlike Suma, Mariama has the opportunity to attend school, although certain members of her community have questioned the influence an education has had on her, and whether or not it has caused her to lose respect for her dad. The same is said when she gets a job at a local radio station. Radios are quite popular in Sierra Leone, and Mariama takes this opportunity to use her voice and share her ideas with the girls that listen to the station. As mentioned before, many questioned the idea of a girl holding a job, as well as staying out late for both social and work related reasons. The gossip surrounding Mariama caused a temporary rift within her family, but luckily it was just that---temporary.
Mariama is a dreamer. She appreciates the opportunity she has to learn and to work and inspire others. Despite any negative feedback she’s received, she continues to follow the path she’s forged for herself, and won’t take no for an answer.
Amina, grew up surrounded by male violence. Whether the source be her father, her brother, or her future husband, the male population holds an air of dominance over the girls. Similar to Suma’s culture, the idea of a girl having an education is unheard of. Girls hold little value, to the point where Amina’s mother was upset when she was born, for she wanted a boy. Amina’s birth, therefore, wasn’t even worth a birth certificate.
It is in her culture that women are destined for a “life of servitude,” being sold into arranged marriages at ages as early as nine. Amina was sold at the age of eleven, and her parents used the money they were given to buy her brother a car.
In Afghanistan, there is a belief that a woman’s identity must literally, and figuratively, be masked. Once an adult, a girl cannot show her face, and the only opportunity a girl has is to serve a man. Amina, however, is tired of living a life that others chose for her. She wants to learn without consequence, because she is happiest in the classroom. Recently, more and more girls in Afghanistan have been given the chance to have an education, which is one step out of the many necessary for a girl to uncover her identity.
Education is something a lot of people often take for granted. There are girls around the world who wish to have homework or a test to study for. Certain cultures around the world put girls into categories. They oppress them, and try to convince them that they are unworthy of the opportunities given to men. Sometimes, these cultural beliefs manage to strip a young girl of her identity---manage to succeed in convincing her that she is undeserving. Other times, however, a girl will fight back. Girls like Suma, Mariama, and Amina recognize that they are worth an education, and that their voices have power. By using their voices, they allow other girls to hear them; and as their momentum builds, it becomes more and more difficult to silence them.