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books first...boys later...


I have truly been fortunate. I was given every opportunity available to me and encouraged and given support by my family in all that I pursued. My mother, a teacher by profession, always told me “books first, boys later”. Several years later, when I was in my first year of university, I remember my father tell me the same thing one day during the drive home. It seems that my parents were definitely of a like mind on this issue: education is important.

They have taken a personal interest in my studies. Whenever they saw a drop in my grades I’d get something akin to what I believe the royal inquisition would be like. I remember one year when I failed math, my father sat with me almost every night for the holidays following that term and worked with me until I was up to par. My mother always ensured that while I studied I’d have food – it would appear and the empty plate would disappear without me leaving the table and the assignments I was working on…

This support spanned my entire educational life and even spanned the oceans and seas when I studied for my masters in India. Even though they were not there with me physically, I’d get e-mails from my father checking in on me and my mom would always ensure she told me she loved me and wished me luck before every examination I had. SUPPORT!

You see, I don’t think I personally encountered any barriers to my education. In Guyana, education is not something that is withheld from young women – at the university level there seems to be more young women than men in the classes. However, if one should look at the fields of study you’ll find that more young women tend to be in the stereotypically ‘women’ fields (social sciences) than in the ‘men’ fields (technology).

Taking the above into consideration and my personal experiences, I think the biggest barrier to education in my society is the ‘thinking’. Many people in my society still subscribe to the view that young women should be home makers – they can have jobs and so on but their primary role is to find a man, get married and make babies to care for. At 27 years, I’m constantly being told that ‘it’s time to get married since you’re done studying now’.

I think that these societal norms are so strong that they do affect the confidence of young women. Some of them are not strong enough to stand up to these stereotypes because they are so taken up with ‘what would society think?’ I’m not saying that anything is wrong with a young woman wanting to be a wife and mother. However, she should know that there are other options for her and should be encouraged to pursue them, not just told that she can.

I truly do believe that if you educate a woman you’re bordering on educating a nation. She would share her knowledge and reinvest in her children and so forth. Even though it might be subtle in many cases in Guyana, women still are being influenced to follow the more traditional roles of this gender. By doing this, many smart young women are choosing not to invest in themselves. As a result, there are many more men in the workforce, in the leading/managerial positions, and our voices are not being heard as loudly as they should. The fact that we area in a minority in areas that matter causes us to not represent our issues fully.

To stand up for oneself and to go against the norms of society is not easy because many would see it as being disrespectful to the elders. However, I have found that by explaining myself and stating my desires, my priorities, have been useful - it’s about communicating what you want and how you would achieve them. I will be a wife and a mother one day (I’m a romantic – I’m waiting for love hehehe) and as an educated woman I will bring my knowledge to my family: I will be a great sounding board for my husband, a teacher to my children and a vocalist for myself.

Guyana is a paradise – there is room for improvement, no doubt about it, but we are not as marginalised as is the case in many other places on earth where education is concerned. I find that in Guyana, one of the largest barriers is our thinking - we are our own personal demons. We need to change the way we think and through that we will move forward. To do so, I think young women need to understand, start asserting themselves more and follow their dreams. Remember books first and boys later…

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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I agree with you books first and boys later but its not easy to change some one’s stereotyped thinking but hope with awareness and voice raising we can change their mindsets. and I really liked the way your parents support you.

TJ's picture

little steps :)

First step - create awareness
Second step - behaviour change mechanisms :)

There is a big picture but there r little steps :)

Sometims I wish I can clone my parents and lend them out.

Thank you


Iryna's picture

a secret

And our biggest secrect is that we can perfectly combine boys and books!
You wrote so touching post, TJ. Thank you!

TJ's picture

most definitely :)

I agree :) we can combine them but I just didn't know how to fit that in. However I do think that the formative years should be focused on books mainly - boys in the capacity of friends. As we enter adulthood we can give them the same importance, if so desired :d

Thanks for bringing that point up!


Petunia007's picture

I could connect to this -

I could connect to this - 'feminine jobs' 'time-ticking-marriage-bombs', lol.

However, I found this strange - " In Guyana, education is not something that is withheld from young women – at the university level there seems to be more young women than men in the classes." In my country, there is a divide between the urban and rural classes, between the rich and poor and this also projects differences in their attitudes to girl-child education. So I was wondering if in the rural areas in Guyana, people also embraced girl-child education.

TJ's picture

mind set and some economics...

Time-ticking-marriage-bombs indeed! :)

Like I said - I never experienced it and to the best of my knowledge, girls and boys are encouraged to pursue their education. It's more of a mind-set thing here - education is good but many girls also grow up with the idea of marriage and family as a main goal. I might have alluded to economics (too subtly) - this is also a factor that affects education but not just girl children, boys also.

I hope this sheds some light :) if not, I'll try again!

Precious M's picture

Very Captivating Title

Dear TJ,

I love the way you begin your post: books first...boys later...
I hope a lot of girls adopt this philosophy especially those experiencing puberty.
Wonderful post you have.


My pen speaks

TJ's picture

I hope so too :)

It's not as hard as some might think - an educated woman (one who doesn't need a man to take care of her) in my opinion is a strong woman. Develop yourself first then when you find the right partner your lives will be so much better - for you and any children that come. :)

The young ladies in my circle (outside of work) seem to choose this - even those who have boyfriends and are still in school prioritise their book work as being most important.

Thank you for your kind words Precious :)

bhavna's picture

Dear TJ

Impressive post! Can't agree more, an educated women is an asset to a family and her nation.
well started and ended with " books first, boys later" :)

Keep sharing

TJ's picture


Education (formal or informal) is definitely a great thing for women - she educates the world with it!

Love TJ

Aminah's picture

"what would society think?"

You have once again written a wonderful post addressing the question at hand nicely.
I enjoyed reading every single word.
The situation in Guyana and here looks pretty similar in that access to education nowadays is not the problem.
Today the problem is the way we think. As you state gender stereotyped professions is an issue.

Another situation that is becoming more of a problem over in my country is a more traditionalist view that women need to commit themselves to the family to make the new generation more accountable... it is a continuing debate and sometimes borders on the disturbing side.

Even if educated, people like me think of the society before we make a drastic decision. long story short - society matters, especially in such a small community like ours. But yet again, it could be just an excuse :)

Anyways, keep up the great work.



TJ's picture

some good points...

I agree - gender stereotyped roles in the workplace is still very much an issue but I do believe that the first was taken already - awareness of the problem. There are changes being made but slowly.

Sometimes I wonder if society would be better if the father stayed at home and the woman works :) They say that the youths need that nurturing and because the mothers are working now then they don't have guidance but what about the father/father digures? :D

Thank you for the kind words and encouragement :D

Maya Norton's picture

Great title, TJ, it really

Great title, TJ, it really draws you in. I see you took advantage of finally having more words at our disposal. :)

~ Maya

TJ's picture

thank you :D

It's tough to get feedback when there are so many wonderful writers sharing here :D the title just popped into my head :D


Maya Norton's picture

Agreed, but you got it done.

Agreed, but you got it done. It's a nice challenge.

~ Maya

busayo's picture

Inspiring Title and piece

You have a very inspiring title and piece here. Keep it up!!

Warmest regards

Busayo Obisakin
Women inspiration Development center
Ile-Ife, Nigeria

TJ's picture

Thank you for the

Thank you for the encouragement :)


ayodele emefe's picture


Hello TJ,

Thank you for sharing your story.

I am glad that you have parents that supported you all the way in your educational quest. I want to believe that your parents' attitude towards education were a motivating factor for you and which ultimately rubbed off in the way you see education especially with girls/women.

For most girls and women who feel insecure to pursue their education dreams, I believe that the solution is in creating greater awareness on why education should be viewed as a tool for success both for them their children and their families rather than a limiting factor. True freedom lies in being able to express yourself and making your voice heard.

Once again, thank you.



"You are a champion and a hero. Do not think yourself any less"

TJ's picture

time for action :)

I had this wonderful response for you but I lost my internet connection WHILE trying to preview it and it all disappeared :( But I'll try to capture the essence of it here again :D

I agree that awareness is important however I also think that with the messages that create awareness need to come some possible solutions. These solutions might be implemented or discussed and new solutions found. I definitely support continued work in the awareness platform as it helps to educate us all on what's happening. However, the time for action is long past - let's tweak the awareness messages a bit and include solutions so we can start taking action beyond the 'information role'.

I loved the points you brought as the post (with limited words) cannot possibly cover everything! :)


RosemaryC's picture

Changing how we think

Dear TJ:

I enjoyed reading your story. Your words draw such vivid pictures, like that one of your mother bringing you food and then taking away the empty plate so you could keep working on your assignments. And I offer my congratulations on your educational achievements and your many years of hard work.
I liked your explanation of how assumptions about gender roles can affect a country's economic and public life in subtle ways, even in a country where education for young women is so generally available and supported as in Guyana.
In an ideal world, women and men would be able to make their own career choices while both having whatever support they need in order to raise a family. On that front, we all have a long way to go!
I am so impressed by your parents' support for you. It seems that they did a great job of sharing equally in the challenge of balancing family life with work - well done to them, as well as to you!

Best wishes,

TJ's picture

i can't say it all ..

I can't say everything I want to in a small post but I'm happy you picked up on some of the inferences made.

Thank you for your kind words! They are much appreciated :)


turtledove100's picture

great thoughts

Thank you for sharing your story, your thoughts and your ideas TJ. It's inspiring to hear the voice of a young woman who has had support growing up and has been given the opportunity to pursue an education. And it's equally powerful to have you raise your voice for those that are not as fortunate as you.

Your parent's motto "books first, boys later" is very empowering. I too believe that if we educate women, we raise the entire community. Raise the communities and er elevate the world.

Best of luck to you and I look forward to hearing your voice in the WP community.

Kind regards,

"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach" (Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author and poet)

TJ's picture

getting there

This is but the first step for me on World Pulse - I cannot promise posts every day but I do promise to keep them coming on the issues close and dear to me and to help with the empowerment of our sisters.

Thank you for you kind words Debbie.


Anais Tuepker's picture

great optimistic message

Hi TJ,

I really enjoyed reading your story and hearing your thoughts on how to help young women achieve all their potential in school and in life. You wrote perceptively about the positive role your family members have obviously played in your life. How do you think we can best build a world where all girls are encouraged in that way? And how do you think we can best encourage young women to be strong, as you put it, and know that they have many choices, especially when their families or communities are not actively promoting an end to stereotypes?

I really lived the spirit of self enquiry that comes through in your writing and look forward to reading more!

Best wishes to you, and thank you for being part of the WP community,


TJ's picture

questions and answers

Thank you for the kind words and encouragement! :) They are much appreciated.

I was luck - corrected - I AM lucky and I know that I should try and make those I can as lucky as I am. Like you I have a lot of questions and I'm discovering the answers, slowly but surely. I guess everything cannot be done NOW - hahaha, I really like the NOW but I've learn to accept the 'not too far in the future' sometimes.

Building the world is not easy - we have to UNLEARN a lot of things before we learn new things. The first step is most definitely AWARENESS which I think has been achieved in many parts of the world. The other step would be to see the resources we have available and work towards behaviour change. As with many other things, it wouldn't happen over night but small steps will make us walk that mile without even know it - keep our eyes on the prize.

I'm not sure about the second question but my method is to lead by example and to encourage them to interact and learn. Not all of them can easily work their ways into the community of 'doing' and not 'being sidelined' but perseverance. In the past, I've gotten to know the parents and family and we build a trust there that they feel comfortable in letting their children attend activities that I can vouch. There were/are situations where girl children are not allowed to go out beyond a certain time and if parents hear that I'm going to be they say okay - I always make sure that they are home by the time their parents say. TRUST is very important.

I hope I answered you questions as they pertained to my personal take on the 'how to...'

What are your thoughts?


Anais Tuepker's picture

yes, leading by example

Hi TJ,

Thanks for sharing more of your thoughts and answers to my questions. I don't believe anyone has the definite answers, but I like to see what others think. I agree wholeheartedly that one of the most important things we can do is simply lead by our own experience. I also believe in collective, organized action to achieve one's goals, but I know from my own life that you can make a difference for others by leading your own life with conviction and also helping others to be able to do the same, even if you only do it in small ways, a little at a time. It sounds like you are a trusted role model in your community, and that is a very valuable force for positive change.

Change is a long road and I wish us both the necessary strength and patience to keep at it!

best wishes for your studies,

keep well,

TJ's picture

thank you :)

"Change is a long road and I wish us both the necessary strength and patience to keep at it!"

Me too! :)

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