Today I see myself in a classroom with my surrounding classmates–girls and boys. I have the chance to go to school everyday to get a proper education. Sometimes I even dread or forget the rare privilege that I have. But in different places around the world, this is not the case. In other countries, cultural beliefs influence and affect a girl’s life–usually for the worse. Today, millions of girls around the world are denied the right to have an education. Girl Rising is a documentary that reveals girls living in different countries, with differing cultures. They cope with difficult barriers that men never face, such as early marriage, gender-based violence, domestic slavery, social judgement and sex trafficking. While I have the opportunity to be able to write an essay like this, many girls today may never be given the chance to even step foot in a classroom, just because of their cultural values. Not only are women around the globe not able to get a proper education, but they are victimized just because of their gender. Girl Rising is a global campaign for girls’ education and freedom, with the hope of shaping their lives for the better.
Suma is a girl who lives in Nepal. When she was six years old, she became a Kamlari, which were bonded laborers in Nepal. Instead of going to school, she worked as a servant for a number of families– cleaning, washing dishes, fetching firewood, and minding the children. Because her parents were poor, Suma had to work in order to have food to eat and to have a roof over her head. Though the environment was harsh (suffering from beatings and demeaning remarks), in order to live, she had no choice but to bond with a master. Meanwhile, her brother was sent to school and had all the opportunities that she could only dream of. Suma’s family could only afford for one child to go to school. They obviously picked their son. Their son is always going to be main priority because he is their best shot to bring them economic stability in the future. Suma’s story is an example barrier of domestic slavery. Suma was eventually set free, now trying to help set other girls free as well. Kamlari is now illegal, but it has only been for a short amount of time; showing that girls like Suma in Nepal still have a long way to go.
Mariama is a girl who lives in Sierra Leone. Her situation is much different from other girls. She has two moms and one dad. This is a tribal practice; when a women becomes a widow, she has the option of marrying someone in her husband's family. When Mariama’s mom was widowed, she married her husband’s brother. When he fell in love with another women, he married her too. Unlike Mariama, her parents never went to school. Besides attending school, Mariama found happiness in her new found job for a radio station. She loved to talk and to help girls solve their problems–she felt like she had a purpose. Even though Mariama really enjoyed to work at the station, her dad was criticized by his neighbors about letting his daughter on the radio show. Breaking down from the pressure of his peers, Mariama’s father, afraid that his daughter will stop being a caring person, banned her from the radio station. Eventually, Mariama was able to get her job back to talk to girls across the country. Not only Mariama, but her father faced social judgment, just because she was a girl working at a radio station. Even though Mariama was able to achieve some sort of education and work, she still faced social discrimination because of her gender.
Amina is a girl who lives in Afghanistan. She couldn’t show her face because of her culture–all women had to be covered while the men didn’t. "She was masked and muted; an object to be handled." As a child, Amina had very little years of education. Instead she spent days working and learned early to serve. Her mother neither read nor wrote, just like many other women in Afghanistan. During the documentary, she expressed, “I want to learn, but I would be killed.” Amina had the fear for her own life in her community. She was married at the young age of eleven–her body used as a resource for profit. She was like cattle to be sold in exchange for the money to buy her brother a used car. Amina faced obstacles such as rape and early marriage, something a male would never have to experience. She had no say; she was as worthless as her brother’s used car. Amina eventually left and got connected with different organizations and schools to help girls in Afghanistan today. Even though it’s so hard to change Amina’s culture, Afghanistan is changing. Because of different organizations, more girls are able to go to school and have some sort of say.
The effects of cultural traditions
Girls like Suma, Mariama, or Amina were expected to work, care for younger children, etc. That is what was common in their culture; it was the norm. There is no doubt that culture greatly influences gender. This notion of having gender roles stared ages ago, making it extremely hard to break the tradition so deeply embedded in everyones' lives. While the nature of gender roles vary in different societies, women have less power and influence over decision making processes that shapes their own lives. Though not as extreme, even in America, women are still treated unfairly. Yes, I can go to school, but it doesn't stop the fact that I will face unequal treatment. Though the girls in Girl Rising lived in different countries with different customs and social norms, they shared the prejudice that will always loom above their heads today.
More women now than ever are starting to fight back, encouraged to dismantle the barriers they face. Though cultural traditions are hard to break, it isn't impossible. That is why Suma fought to free other Kumlari. That is why Mariama is still working at the radio station. That is why Amina left her village to get connected with different organizations. Though there is still a long way to go, people like Suma, Mariama, and Amina in Girl Rising, are taking action that can create real, tangible change for women of all cultures.