I met Walterine during my Baltimore to Guyana layover in the Panama City airport. Seeing that I was reading a Guyana guidebook, Walterine, a proud Guyanese, excitedly sat down next to me and began asking about my trip and my plans while in Guyana.
I explained to Walterine that I worked with Girls’ Globe and would be speaking with women and girls at Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). Coincidentally (and serendipitously), Walterine worked as the principal of a local high school. Loving the Girls’ Globe mission, she invited me to visit her school and speak to her girls about women’s and girls’ empowerment.
Happily, I accepted.
Last week, I had the fantastic opportunity to work with 200 young women (aged 13-14) at Tutorial High School. Not only were students engaged and excited to share their ideas about gender equality, but they also were incredibly knowledgeable about gender-related issues.
After telling the girls a little bit about myself and about Girls’ Globe, I gave a brief introduction about why ensuring gender equality and empowering young girls is crucial for development – tackling topics like HIV/AIDS, family planning, economic security, maternal health, education, and more.
But I wasn’t there to talk. I was there to listen. I wanted to hear their perspectives on gender equality and empowerment.
At that point, I separated the class into several smaller discussion groups, giving each table a poster and a different question to answer.
A few of the questions included:
- What is your favorite part about being a girl?
- What are some of the challenges of being a girl?
- Why is gender equality important to you?
- What does empowerment mean to you?
- What are some of the barriers to gender equality?
While the girls brainstormed their answers, I began to realize how daunting a task staying in school could be – not only due to outside factors, but to the school building’s infrastructure as well. The classroom was long and narrow, with only three dusty chalkboards, no erasers, and one piece of chalk. The room, when filled to capacity (as it was), didn’t allow for the vast majority of students to have a clear view of a chalkboard. Square holes dotted the walls, allowing a cool breeze to sweep across the room – a necessity for a school that lacks air conditioning in a tropical climate. However, as a consequence, outside noises easily distracted and students in the back struggled to hear. In such an environment, it would be easy for anyone to drift off, daydream, and fall behind, inevitably causing a snowball effect that could haunt the rest of your life.
When the groups finished brainstorming, each group presented their answers to the entire class. I was blown away by the honesty and creativity of these young women. Students took on difficult topics and responded in various and equally impressive ways. Although each group was powerful in its own right, I have to admit I had a few favorites.
When asked the question “What does empowerment mean to you?”, Shannae, 13, responded with a poem:
Give but don’t allow yourself
to be used.
Love but don’t allow your
Heart to be abused.
Trust but don’t be naive.
Listen to others but don’t
Lose your own voice…
Another group with the same question drew a cartoon of a man and a woman talking. The man asks the woman if he could touch her private parts. The woman responds, “No, but you can touch your own.” (At which point in the presentation, the room erupted in laughter.)
When describing the challenges of being a girl, one group had each group member trace her hand on the poster and, within the lines of her own hand, write a challenge. A heartbreaking question, these young women answered with strength and courage, proudly presenting their poster to the class. Challenges listed included bullying, low self-esteem, boys, peer pressure, puberty, and not being wanted.
As expected, the favorite and most exciting question to answer was “What is your favorite part about being a girl?” Answers included a wide range of activities such as manicures and pedicures, exercising, listening to music, going to school, and more.
I am honored to have had the opportunity to meet these incredible and smart young women. After feeling the class’ energy and hearing their ideas, I am confident these girls are already on the path to success. And as much as I hope the girls learned a lot both from me and each other, I am positive that I learned a lot more from them.
I’ll soon be returning to Tutorial High to repeat this lesson with a younger class – and I can’t wait to see what they’ll teach me.