Last week I attended a Gender and Development In-Service Training in Kombo (near Banjul, Gambia) with a teacher from the school in my village. For two days we discussed gender roles and norms in The Gambia and ways of challenging those to empower youth (both boys and girls) to have equal opportunities in the country.
The Gambia is a participating country in the Let Girls Learn program. “Let Girls Learn is a United States government initiative to ensure adolescent girls get the education they deserve. Around the world, girls face complex physical, cultural, and financial barriers in accessing education. As a girl grows older the fight to get an education becomes even harder. Her family must be willing to pay school fees. She may have a long, unsafe walk to school. She may be forced to marry.
And she often lacks the support she needs to learn. Yet, we know that educating girls can transform lives, families, communities, and entire countries. When girls are educated, they lead healthier and more productive lives. They gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence to break the cycle of poverty and help strengthen their societies. It’s time to Let Girls Learn.” (letgirlslearn.gov)
With the funding for Let Girls Learn projects currently up in the air, an important aspect of the training was talking about small, inexpensive ways of combatting gender norms. In The Gambia, Peace Corps hosts major annual events such as Explore Your Country and Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) where students are selected for week long programs about gender empowerment and professional development. Those programs are widely successful, but an important part of empowering girls and women is small interactions and exchanges in our communities that can help men and women think more about their gender stereotypes and how to challenge them.
Too often in my community do I see a child’s activities and opportunities prescribed by their gender. My host sisters cook and clean while my host brother goes to play football. It’s important to get people, starting with your family, to think about why we split activities and responsibilities, and ultimately future opportunities, based on gender.
If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation.