The Gender Boundaries Imposed on Children in India

Many children worldwide have grown up playing with Barbie dolls and Transformers. You can perhaps guess which children played with which toys. From the time of our birth we are taught the ways in which males and females should conduct themselves.

Why does society enforce such restrictions from the moment a child is born? Too often, our society sees men as the working hand of the family and women as the caretakers of homes. Both put in equal effort and time but the work done by women is not really considered “work”. It is a common fact that working women are paid less than their male counterparts.

Many parents invariably end up buying toys and clothes – pink for the girls and blue for the boys – based on prevalent and enforced gender notions. Mine did too. Why is that only girls can have pink and only boys can have blue things? Both are equally beautiful colors! So why is it that society laughs at a boy wearing a pink shirt?

“Don’t lift that, it’s too heavy.” Most girls have heard something like this at least once in their lifetime. What does it imply? That girls are weak? That they can’t do things alone, without a male helping them? Society has divided up tasks and decided which suits which gender. When parents are asked to describe their children, girls tend to be identified as delicate, weak, beautiful and cute while boys are seen as strong, alert, and well-coordinated.

“Don’t even try, cooking is not for you.” Boys will probably have heard something like this. But tell me, why can boys not learn like the girls? No girl is born a chef, they learn. So why are boys often not allowed to enter the kitchen by their mothers? And even if they have permission, boys themselves often think that cooking is below them. It’s a “girly” thing to do – an idea which is taught right from childhood.

Sociologist have shown that parents are likely to encourage their sons to engage in competitive play and discourage their daughters from doing so. Instead, parents tend to encourage girls to engage in cooperative, role-playing games. These different play patterns lead to the heightened development of verbal and emotional skills among girls and to increased concern with winning and the establishment of hierarchy among boys. Boys are more likely than girls are to be praised for assertiveness, and girls are more likely than boys are to be rewarded for compliance. This is again a way of enforcing gender stereotypes right from the start of a child’s life.

Society has built a wall between genders. Parents, teachers and other figures in authority typically try to impose their ideas of appropriate gender behavior on children, which in later life leads to gender discrimination. It is common to find that in classrooms, teachers constantly pit boys against the girls in spelling and math contests. These contests are marked by cross-gender antagonism and expression of within-gender solidarity.

This is detrimental for society in multiple ways in the long run. From birth, it is important to break down the gender boundaries by teaching our children that everyone is equal and deserves to be treated with the same humility and respect. The world will truly be a better place.

Cover photo credit: Azad India Foundation 

The Power of the Adolescent Girl

When the Millennium Development Goals were implemented in 2000, Naw Cynthia was an adolescent girl striving for an education with little support from her family, her country of Myanmar, or the world at large.  Today, as global leaders recently met for the United Nations General Assembly to establish new goals for 2016, the face of this agenda is an adolescent girl – a girl in school, safe, not married off, and able to aspire to follow her dreams.

The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child on October 11th is ‘the power of the adolescent girl’.  Global communities are being called upon to commit to critical investments in quality education, skills, training, access to technology and other learning initiatives that prepare girls for life, jobs, and leadership.

The world recently witnessed the courage and power of an adolescent Pakistani girl, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafazi, who fought the Taliban for her right to attend school.  Malala’s story, detailed in her book I Am Malala and her upcoming documentary, He Named Me Malala, is an inspiration for girls all around the world.

However, it is not an easy journey for adolescent girls.  Naw Cynthia was one of five children with an absent father and a mother driven to beat her children.  As a young girl, Naw Cynthia was sexually abused by her neighbor.  These abuses seriously impacted her confidence. Yet she was determined to rise above her childhood and stand tall.  She knew that a good education would be her liberator.

Now a well-educated and respected proponent of quality education and literacy in Myanmar, Naw Cynthia is working to give today’s adolescent girls a voice and to encourage them to pursue their dreams through education.

Naw Cynthia readily shares her story with adolescent girls because she wants them to be strong and to not compromise their dreams.  She tells Burmese girls “You are NOT weak.  You are strong.  Do NOT let others look down on you.  And do NOT tolerate any form of abuse or harassment.”

Like so many women who juggle multiple responsibilities, Naw Cynthia worries she is not a good mother or a good leader or a good wife.  We believe she is an outstanding role model for girls and boys.  Naw Cynthia will teach her son to treat girls with respect and to value their contribution in the world.

Girls need inspirational role models like Naw Cynthia and Malala.   With approval from Malala Foundation, Educational Empowerment is translating I Am Malala into Burmese.  Soon it will be published in Yangon so Burmese girls can read Malala’s powerful story. Educational Empowerment is proud to be an advocate for girls’ rights at this pivotal time in history.  Girls need to know they have rights and how to access them.  Let’s all celebrate the power of the adolescent girl.

To take immediate action:

  • Join Girls Globe conversation on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • Become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights.
  • Donate to Educational Empowerment at donate.
  • Let your voices be heard for girls worldwide!

Educational Empowerment was created by women and for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities severely affected by poverty and injustice in Myanmar. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women in Myanmar to attain their equal rights.

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org & follow us on Facebook at EE, Twitter @EEmpower, and on Instagram.

Chewed Rice, not Exclusive Breastfeeding in Laos

In villages in southern Laos, breastfeeding mothers are as ubiquitous as thatched roofs and playing children. In my time among villagers, I have never seen a breastfeeding mother cover up or go inside to continue feeding. Breastfeeding stigma seems non-existent. On front stoops and in gathering places, babies get their fill, comfortably ensconced in slings or resting on laps.

This freedom to feed however, isn’t reflected in Lao’s exclusive breastfeeding rates: just 39% of babies benefit from early initiation of breastfeeding and only 40% are exclusively breastfed until 6 months.

With child mortality rates in Laos among the highest in the region – nearly 79 deaths per 1,000 children under 5 – the government has taken measures at improving child survival.  One such initiative is a joint Lao government-UNICEF program to promote exclusive breastfeeding.

In a 2012 presentation on the progress of this joint program, Dr.Khamseng Philavong from the Lao Ministry of Health tied breastfeeding to improving child survival:

“Evidence indicates breastfeeding as the most important preventive intervention with potentially the single largest impact on reducing child mortality.”

Given that breastfeeding is common practice and the government is promoting it why isn’t exclusive breastfeeding the norm in Laos?

One reason, according to the nurses we work with, is that there is a long tradition of feeding pre-chewed rice to babies as early as the first week of life.

Breastfeeding Mom, Tahoy District, Salavan, Laos
Breastfeeding Mom, Tahoy District, Salavan, Laos. Photo Credit: CleanBirth

A study by Kaufmann et al found that pre-chewed rice was given to 20-48% of Lao infants in the first week of life.  There is a belief that breast milk is not enough – that supplementation is needed.  While rice has long been the traditional addition to a baby’s diet, the marketing of breast milk substitutes is proving effective in urban areas.

The consequences of supplementation seem to be significant. According to another study, the practice of supplementing rice is tied to Laos’ high rate of stunting (low height for age as a result of chronic malnutrition) which stands at 44 %.  In Salavan Province where I work, stunting affects 54 % of children under 5, one of the highest rates in the country.

So what can be done to promote exclusive breastfeeding?  

My organization, CleanBirth.org which works to promote safe birth, trains Lao government nurses to promote the WHO’s breastfeeding strategy among their families. This includes:

  • Early initiation of breastfeeding within I hour of birth
  • Exclusive breastfeeding for first six months
  • Continued breastfeeding for two years or more
  • Safe, appropriate and adequate complementary foods beginning at six months.

The local nurses understand the efficacy of exclusive breastfeeding. They have told us that they believe that with education, families will eventually move away from supplementation.

This type of education is essential because when parents understand how to properly feed their children, children survive and thrive.

Featured Image: Lao government poster promoting breastfeeding at local clinic. Photo Credit: CleanBirth

IMG_0736-0

Women Inspire: Self Reliance through Education

Written by Melody Mociulski, Founder, Educational Empowerment

Having just returned from 3+ weeks in Myanmar, I am struck by the numerous instances I witnessed of girls and women empowered by education – all resulting in their increased independence, self-confidence, and self-reliance.

In today’s world of injustices, human rights abuses, and violence, it was uplifting to learn of positive outcomes and the power of the human spirit.  During my visits with Educational Empowerment’s (EE) partners, I interviewed numerous women and girls to learn of their life struggles, dreams, and thoughts on education. It was saddening to hear their stories of trauma created by poverty, sexual assault, natural disasters, and violence.  Yet, it was extremely inspiring to see how education has helped them to overcome these tragedies and to prevail.

Naw Cynthia, one of EE’s partners, told me of the physical and sexual abuse she endured during her childhood.  She always knew that education would be her liberator.  Cynthia is now a well-educated and respected proponent of quality education and literacy in Myanmar.  She shares her story with adolescent girls to give them a voice and to encourage them to pursue their dreams through education.

Cho Cho, a Burmese friend, told me about the impacts of poverty on her childhood and how she escaped from it.  She was taught by her parents that education was the most important way to escape poverty. Every June when school started in Myanmar, her family skipped meals. They only ate broken rice which is cheaper than regular rice or boiled water grass leaves if they couldn’t afford the broken rice. This was their way to save money for school fees for seven children. Cho Cho and her sister only had one pair of shoes between them.  Her sister (in the seventh standard and now a doctor) would wear the shoes to school in the evening. Cho Cho (in the fourth standard and now a finance supervisor) would wear the shoes to school in the afternoon.   Now, all are seven siblings are successful professionals who work full-time jobs and dedicate their remaining time and income to supporting education for less fortunate Burmese. Like their parents said, they escaped poverty through education. Cho Cho values education because it enabled her to change her whole life.  She wishes that all people, especially youth, learn the value of education.

Daw Khin Photo Credit: Educational Empowerment
Daw Khin
Photo Credit: Educational Empowerment

Daw Khin Nwe Oo, a tall, statuesque mom of six, sells sticky rice snacks in her village.  As part of our microfinance project, she receives financial and business management training.  Quick to smile and laugh, her business does extremely well, enabling her two youngest daughters to remain in school.  Education is important to Daw Khin.  Because of health problems when she was a child, she wasn’t able to finish primary school.  She wants her children to have good jobs, success, and respect.  Daw Khin emanates pride in her business accomplishments and enthusiasm to become even more successful.

Girls attending high school in the remote Yay Kyaw Toe village in the southern Delta all survived the devastating destruction of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.  They board at the high school and dedicate long days and nights to achieving high scores on their annual exams, learning critical thinking, mastering the English language, and actively practicing their Buddhism.  They know that their future dreams and lives outside the Delta depend on education.

All of these girls and women touched my heart.  They impressed me with their positive, hopeful attitudes, their resilience in the face of adversity, their confidence, and their self-reliance.  They embody the belief that teaching a girl can change the world.

Stay tuned for more news of Naw Cynthia, Cho Cho, Daw Khin, and other amazing Burmese girls and women in my upcoming series in Women Inspire.

Join me in the campaign to ensure all girls receive quality education and develop self-reliance.

To take immediate action:

  • Join Girls Globe conversation on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • Become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights
  • Donate to Educational Empowerment
  • Let your voices be heard for girls worldwide!

Educational Empowerment was created by women and for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities severely affected by poverty and injustice in Myanmar. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women in Myanmar to attain their equal rights.

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org & follow us on Facebook, Twitter @EEmpower, and on Instagram.

 

Education: Girls’ Beacon of Hope

Delta Students Read EE's Folktale Books  Photo Credit: Helping The Burmese Delta
Delta Students Read EE’s Folktale Books
Photo Credit: Helping The Burmese Delta

Written by Melody Mociulski, Chair and Founder of Educational Empowerment

Girls around the world today are struggling to achieve their basic human rights – protection from forced labor, early marriage, conflict, and sex slavery; access to education; prevention of needless death from pregnancy and childbirth; freedom to determine for themselves their life path.

In the face of these ongoing and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, natural disasters add yet one more barrier for them to overcome.

On Friday May 2nd, 2008, Cyclone Nargis, the 8th worst cyclone ever recorded, hit the Ayeyarwady Delta in Myanmar.  Approximately 150,000 people were killed, and 20,000 girls and boys were orphaned.

Villagers were starting their day as usual when all of a sudden the wind whipped up the river and the water began to rise.  Trees and houses crashed down and floated away.  Families were separated.  Darkness came.  Although crying of children and animals could be heard, no one could see anything.  The water kept creeping up.  In the morning, all was mud and destruction. Children tried to find their families and make sense of this nightmare.

Nargis destroyed 60% of the schools in the Delta.  And those left standing had no usable sanitation facilities, furniture, or classroom materials. Rebuilding schools and restoring the formal education system in the aftermath of a disaster are crucial to help girls in disaster-stricken communities regain a sense of normalcy and security, and obtain the psychosocial support needed to overcome such a traumatic experience.

Since 2008 post-cyclone reconstruction has been slow, hampered by near impossible logistical access and lack of electricity and fresh water.  Parents in the Delta understand the importance of education, and they readily relocate to a village that has a school.  The most effective way to address society’s costs for future hazards is to invest in expanding the knowledge of girls and boys. Without an education, girls in the Delta are doomed to a continued life of extreme poverty.

In partnership with a local non-profit organization, Educational Empowerment is building a primary school in the Delta to empower Burmese girls through education. During a trip to Myanmar in January, I will attend the school’s dedication celebration.  I am excited to hear stories first hand from girls who survived the cyclone and now have a chance to learn to read and receive an education – their beacon of hope for the future.

Educational Empowerment fulfills that hope for Burmese girls by providing access to schools and books, incentives to stay in school, and support for teachers.

Let’s join together to ensure all girls and boys have hope for education and for a better life.

To take immediate action:

  • Join Girls’ Globe in the conversation on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • Become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights.
  • Donate to Educational Empowerment at.
  • Let your voices be heard for girls worldwide!

Educational Empowerment was created by women and for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities severely affected by poverty and injustice in Myanmar. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women in Myanmar to attain their equal rights.

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org & follow us on Facebook, Twitter @EEmpower, and Instagram.

Conflict and Displacement: Impact on Girls’ Education

Halockhani IDP Camp  Photo Credit: Educational Empowerment
Halockhani IDP Camp
Photo Credit: Educational Empowerment

Can you imagine living as a refugee – or as a stateless person with no nationality?  Camps overflow with cramped quarters, no privacy, insufficient latrines, and scarce school options.  Girls are tasked with gathering firewood. They easily become prey for assault when venturing out at dawn to gather wood.

The number of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced and stateless people worldwide has, for the first time since World War II, exceeded 50 million people.  80% are women and children.

Failure to resolve and prevent conflict is the number one cause of this displacement.  And it’s the primary barrier preventing children – especially girls – from realizing their right to education.

Myanmar has been immersed in civil wars and conflict since the 1960’s. At that time the military junta enacted the Four Cuts policy, consisting of “attacking villages, forcing ethnic villagers to move into heavily controlled relocation sites, destroying their homes and crops, and planting landmines in their former villages and farms to prevent their return”.

Impacts on displaced children are severe – increased risk of human rights abuses, instability, detachment, chronic health and emotional problems, and lack of access to education.  To reach schools, children are forced to cross potential land mined areas.  Girls are at high risk of sexual assault, and twice as likely as boys to drop out of school.

Loi Lai Leng IDP Camp Photo Credit: Educational Empowerment
Loi Lai Leng IDP Camp
Photo Credit: Educational Empowerment

Education is essential to fostering peace, reducing poverty, and increasing gender equality. Schools can provide life-saving information, such as landmine awareness and HIV and pregnancy prevention guidance.

Education instills hope – hope for safety – hope for food – hope for school.  Hope is the little voice you hear whisper maybe – when it seems the entire world is shouting no.

Educational Empowerment fulfills that hope for Burmese girls by providing access to schools and books, incentives to stay in school, and support for teachers.

Let’s join together to ensure all girls and boys, especially those living in conflict areas, have hope for education and for a better life.

To take immediate action:

  • Advocate for inclusion of women in conflict resolution and reconstruction efforts.
  • Join Girls Globe conversation on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • Become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights.
  • Donate to Educational Empowerment at donate.
  • Let your voices be heard for girls worldwide!

Educational Empowerment was created by women and for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities severely affected by poverty and injustice in Myanmar. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women in Myanmar to attain their equal rights.

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org & follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.