No amount of words will ever be enough to finish telling the stories of girls today and of yesterdays and their struggles to attain an education. The challenges we face, the potential impact we can create to this world and all the untold stories of girls around the world who will go on living without the basic literacy of reading and writing will go untold – unless we start speaking now.
Whatever one may be thinking that gets in the way of a girl’s education… cultural biases, lack of respect for women, economic constraints, lack of mentors/confidence, etc… check “all of the above,” please!
All these challenges can be summed up in one word: tradition.
Personally, tradition is one of the greatest challenges I face in my community and even across the border where my mother and oldest sister were born. Tradition is one of the biggest villains in almost every culture to women – like me, first generation Mexican-American.
I was born and raised in an unincorporated community with a 99% Latino population. You see, once someone from Latin America enters the United States, unfortunately, not all traditions are left behind. The role of a man and woman are very distinctive and well-defined in the household. Woman and girls stay at home, cook, clean and take care of others while man goes out and works and is the main provider for the family. Traditional. Quite frankly, I know of some women in my community who do the job of a man and woman but their efforts go untold. Whether you live in my community or in Mexico like my mother’s side of the family, you are still facing traditional roles of man and woman. When man and woman begin to realize that there is no such thing as gender role definitions, then we will begin progressing.
While women are already moving towards the right to an education by creating non-profits, teaming up with United Nations Foundation like Girl Up campaign that gives girls access to education in Malawi, Liberia, Ethiopia and Guatemala, it’s still not enough to get every girl living in this world an education.
In the United States of America, where it’s the law for every child to attend school and where incentives range from free or low reduced lunch prices, and a promise to attend college and ultimately achieve a career - this idea has been proven most effective. My family and I broke most traditions of a family coming from a developing country when my older sisters and I pushed ourselves to graduate from high school and go on to college. While the solution here may seem to be to enter the United States of America, I suggest otherwise.
My sisters and I faced a number of challenges to get to college. The one barrier we all had to overcome was tradition. While my father heavily installed in our lives that college is the only way to succeed, he was reluctant to letting us make our own decisions of attending a school of our choice. I witnessed my oldest sister give up a scholarship to a school a mere 380 miles away from home, I witnessed my other sister cry herself to sleep because my father wouldn’t let her attend a school 25 miles away from home. So when it was my turn to make a college decision, I already knew attending a school across the country was going to be impossible. But after months of mental and physical preparation from my mother and sisters, I learned I had to speak up to attend the school of my dreams. Of course my father was the evil green monster I knew but after tears and an explanation of financial aid, he told me I had the choice. Tradition of a close family and being at home to help the family out, almost didn’t allow me to attend my dream school.
While going up against my father and his traditions may not seem like the hardest thing to overcome in this world, these barriers are present in my community and worldwide to girls of all ages.
Malala Yousafzai, 15 year old girl shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for women’s right to an education is today’s revolutionary example. She is a champion in the eyes of girls like me. She has to go against tradition and even though she suffered such tragedy, she is still in school today as we speak.
The best way to overcome these barriers is by speaking up.
In 2012 I presented my first ever TED talk at the TEDxYouth@SanDiego Conference where I shared the barriers I faced as a Latina to attain a higher education to hundreds of high school students.
Now it’s your turn to speak up.