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…