I grew up hearing this statement.
When I asked my mother why I could not express myself, she would say, “In our culture, girls have to be ladylike.” I hated this word and the ‘ladylike’ behavior that I had to possess one hundred percent of the time. As I grew older, I learned that this statement reinforced the gender stereotypes that existed in our society. It is these stereotypes that are prevalent in many societies and lead to gender discrimination.
Gender discrimination means girls and women are denied their inalienable human rights, are abused, violated and ignored. Globally, it is estimated that 66 million girls are currently out of school. It is widely believed that a woman’s place is in the home. Many fathers believe it is pointless to send their daughters to school. Even if a girl wants to continue her education, societal norms and traditions she has grown up with, pressure her to stay home. However, this is changing and more girls are fighting to stay in school.
Gender discrimination means that 14 million girls are coaxed, coerced or forced into marriage before their 18th birthday. One in three girls in the developing world is married before she is 18. One in seven marries before reaching the age of 15, some as young as five. The implications of Early and Forced marriage (EFM) are horrendous. We are familiar with the Yemeni child bride who died on her wedding night due to internal bleeding. Her husband was a man five times her age – old enough to be her father.
Other effects of EFM include:
Domestic violence: Women who marry younger are more likely to be beaten. Their husbands view them as property because, in many cases, they paid a bride price for them.
Poor sexual and reproductive health: Child brides are more likely to contract HIV because it is likely that their husband have had more sexual partners.
Illiteracy and lack of education: Girls often drop out of school in preparation for marriage, and it is unlikely that their husbands will send them to school as childbearing and rearing are seen as the next step.
Total lack of independence, freedom and rights
Due to the belief that a girl should be silent, most girls do not have a choice in decisions which affect them. These decisions are life-changing and even though she may be against these decisions, she will not dispute them.
What if we lived in a world where girls are seen and heard?
Imagine a world where girls have the ability to make choices and to speak up about issues that affect them. We could see more girls fighting to stay in school! Girls in their local communities would have freedom to speak more about issues such as Early and Forced Marriage, educating those in their societies about the dangers and pushing for change. Girls can break gender stereotypes that exist in their communities and become stronger, more independent women who are ready to move themselves from a life of poverty into a life of opportunity.
The key to breaking gender stereotypes and reducing gender discrimination is by educating girls. When girls are educated, they are more confident to express their views. They believe in themselves and most importantly, they dream big and are determined to conquer the world.