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How My Voice Went Underground

Growing up in my small community in Kilmarnock, St. Elizabeth it was routinely accepted that success would come at a price. We all believed that getting to your dreams meant 'jumping through hoops', ''scaling fences' and 'climbing mountains' it therefore meant that it was easy for us to accept discrimination and injustice. The danger of this mentality is that it accepts somehow that as a woman the struggles I experienced on a daily basis were well within reason, in fact now that I look back I realize how utterly unfair some of those difficulties and challenges were.

As a matter of fact until this particular assignment I would not have thought the 'difficulties' I experienced could have been explained as 'barriers' to my progress as a girl. I think my first reflection and acknowledgement of this would be looking back to me in seventh grade, just about the point I started having my period and how utterly painful it was, every month I was forced to battle through painful menstruation, I routinely had to be hospitalized, after awhile my mother just stopped me from school when I was having my period. I missed so much, I lived a half and half life, I stopped playing sports, even though I was a very good netball player. Doctors treated my condition with very little urgency nor did they offer any kind of suggestion as to how I could navigate my monthly crisis. I suffered in silence, with no one to talk to about how my life was shrinking around me.

Going to school presented me with another challenge; girls were repeatedly preyed on by bus drivers and conductors. Sexual overtures and innuendos were common; a girl had to be strong and aggressive as we attempted to navigate travel to and from secondary school. As I reflect, I think of my friends who at a very young age got involved with older men who knew exactly what to say to get these naive, defenceless girls to agree to become involved with them. Pretty soon I had no friends, and those innocent conversations we would have as we sipped box juice on our way to and from school were no more. I felt lonely, there was no one to engage us in discussions about our rights as young women, no one to explain these new feelings we were experiencing, no one to have candid conversations with. I noticed how quick older women were to judge, they became very hostile and were the first to jump to conclusions about why we were talking to a boy or why our skirt looked short or slightly tight. We lived in a culture which did not trust a girl upon her entry to puberty, somehow my body did not only betray me, it had betrayed all the people who liked me and thought I was cute and well-mannered up until my breasts started to grow.

It was not easy, as girls we were also fighting institutional and structural biases. Jamaica's secondary school system is stratified and reinforces class, colour and other barriers. When I sat the Common Entrance Exams at twelve years old, I did not pass the exams. Students, who pass, are given a space in one of Jamaica's Prestigious Colonial Schools. For me at twelve, this taught me that I was 'dunce', making my way to the Black River Secondary School every day was almost like taking a walk of shame, the experience undermined my confidence and self-esteem severely. It was a challenge to make it to school on a daily basis, every time I donned the uniform I knew I was second class, I knew I was not bright enough, I knew I did not make the cut.

Now that I think back, and now that I have been asked to reflect I recognize that these series of events changed me, changed my life, changed my perceptions. How much more safe I would have felt, If I had help and insight to navigate the troubled waters of puberty. I had to do it with very little feedback, with little or no information and in a context that was hostile and distrustful. I realize now that it is for this reason that I started the "I'm Glad I'm A Girl Foundation" I want girls to know that they have rights, that they are beautiful and good at every stage of life, that their body is beautiful and that puberty will bring with it exciting new feelings. That it will bring all kinds of attention, some unwanted but that they will be empowered enough to make informed decisions. I want them to know that they are worthy of trust. I want mothers to know that they have it within them to help their daughter become happy women.

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.
Learn more »

Comments

CeXochitl's picture

Very poignant observations

Hi Nadz!

I was completely blown away by your poignant observations! I am a 7th grade teacher and my classes are currently reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, which is about a young girl growing up in Chicago. Many of the topics brought up in the book, and discussed in class you touched upon in your article. So much of what you say is true, but no one is talking about it! The inability to discuss real life situations is in itself a barrier to girl's education. Thank you for the insight and I look forward to reading more of your work!

Nadz's picture

I want to Read that Book

I hope I get to Read that book, will try to order for Kindle.
Nadz

Life is just for living

The society teaches us, shapes us.
The society needs to change - to value women as humans too.

You have very rightly outlined the barriers the oppression we are faced with as girls, as women.
Men seem to take if for granted that women are to be abused, teased and made fun of for their entertainment.
I guess they do it because they also do not know any better.

The society teaches us to behave a certain way. They teach men to be macho and daring
they teach women to be submissive and fearing.

We unite here to raise our voice. We will keep doing that.
All the best to you and your voice and your journey with VOF

Salaam
Aminah

Nadz's picture

Hello Aminah Thank you so

Hello Aminah
Thank you so much, your words speak to my refusal to be intimidated and silenced, now that I know the truth I will speak against injustice, I will not be ruled by fear.
Nadz

Life is just for living

Nadz's picture

Thank You for your comments

We have to teach our girls to challenge the reality they are presented with, to challenge the concept of who is a good girl to speak up against injustice and to begin to talk to each other about their experiences.
Nadz

Life is just for living

mikabo's picture

VOF Listener

Thank you Nadz,

This is an extremely powerful essay. You are writing from the heart about your experiences and revelations.
This is the kind of writing that communicates most powerfully. We can read and listen to facts and figures but nothing
can make us more passionate than relating to a another person sharing their experience. You have done so in a very articulate and matter of fact way, which also helps your message. You do not exhibit any self pity for the suffering you have been through. This enables others to empathize with your struggle and to admire your grace in doing so....

To add to your journalistic achievement, you have founded an organization to counter act the negativity you experienced growing up. There is nothing more noble or effective than people acting to heal wounds and create alternatives to endemic discriminations.

You have achieved the highest pinnacle of journalistic excellence in this essay.
Please continue what you are doing. The wold will thank you.

MiKaBo

Nadz's picture

Oh My

I do not know what to say..humbled..truly

Life is just for living

Lea's picture

This is an amazing piece,

This is an amazing piece, Nadz. You have truly shown an enormous amount of resilience when faced with so many challenges. Your personal story helped to shed light on the situation for women in Jamaica. Sadly, it sounds like many women there too are subjected to the constant pressures and expectations directed at young women and girls. They are heavily scrutinized and are led to believe that they have to do whatever men tell them to do.
It's very unfortunate that very little help or support is given to women to show them that they do have voice and are worth so much more than they think.
That's why your foundation is so important and is doing a wonderful job of empowering women and nurturing them in a safe and supportive environment.
You are a real inspiration ! Great job!
Lea

Nadz's picture

Thank you

We all have to find away to ensure that our monsters no longer terrify us and we have to ensure that we slay our dragons, I am happy that this did not break me I hope these experiences made me stronger.

Life is just for living

MDG's picture

oh my

Thank you so much for your powerful story. It puts into perspective how skewed the views on girls are in different parts of the world. Ironically I always thought that Jamaican women and girls were empowered by their communities to speak because of their strong characters and seemingly fearless attitude to confronting life as 'come and get it' . I am gratified to learn more and understand more now why it is important to speak out.

thank you.

Nadz's picture

Empowered?

I guess in a way Jamaican women are empowered, they have empowered themselves but there is a way in which we seem to have empowered ourselves without challenging the cultural nuances which undermine us when we begin to take our places in the world, and dismantling a system as pervasive as patriarchy is hard and intense, but I think we are up to it.

The danger is we think we are so empowered that there are n more struggles left to fight, when the visible, structural and tangible ones have been removed we have the most difficult fight left to take on that is the cultural and mental ones.

Nadz

Life is just for living

Nadz,

Thank you for sharing you story about the Common Entrance Exams! I shared a similar experience when it cam to the Standard Aptitude Test in the US. That sinking feeling of shame when your scores do not measure up to the standard or do not meet the expectations of your peers is sometimes unbearable- and to experience that at a time when your own body is also confusing you and letting you down is a heavy burden to bear. I am empowered to hear you say that you took those negative feelings and turned them into something powerfully positive. You're positive attitude is truly encouraging!

Nadz's picture

The Struggles

I look forward to the day when school will not be about isolating those who do not fit a predefined standard but welcoming to each learner, and brings their gender and sex into consideration.

Life is just for living

Pooja Pant's picture

wow

Beautiful writing sis. Thank you for sharing this.

jacquesato's picture

Totally agree with you

Dear Nadz:
I love your name! What does it mean? You're such a wise and compassionate women... I also grew up in a very traditional society in Latin America and attended a Catholic school, so in many ways I can relate to your life story. Girls are raised to be "good women" and they don't really know how their own bodies work. Sexual harassment, date rapes, etc. are so common among teenagers, it's a real shame. Class, race and gender are three variables that have a huge impact in our lives and you know the meaning of that because you've suffered it first-hand.

I wish you all the best in your amazing journey.
Hugs,

Jacqueline

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