OVERCOMING BARRIERS TO A GIRL'S EDUCATION IN CONGO
I have learned just how fortunate I am being born into my family. I enjoyed equal support with my older brothers when it came to education, however, I saw too many of my friends have to struggle against many obstacles to continue their education as they got older and advanced through the grade levels. It’s more or less thought that when a girl has finished the sixth grade, she has the fundamentals and so anything more is not necessary. After all, one day she’ll be married and any education beyond grade school, having learned to read and write and do basic math, would be superfluous. And it’s that cultural mentality that develops the environment in which a girl pursues her education. Yes, my parents supported my schooling as they have all my brothers and sisters. But once out the door of my home, I am just a girl in society’s mind. It’s that mind that encapsulates the struggles I endured in getting my education.
The father of a girlfriend I studied with died during the school year one year. As is the custom, her father’s brothers and cousins plundered most of the family’s assets, leaving my friend’s mom destitute as widows are supposed to be, and unable to pay her children’s school fees. Her father's family took care of the boys school fees because the boys will have many responsibilities as heads of households one day. So my friends and I raised the money to help her finish that school year. The following years she worked as a tutor for younger children and was able to earn enough money to stay in school. Today she has her diploma and we are very proud of her.
There are so many stories like that. Unfortunately most them don’t have happy endings. But something that is not discussed in the open, and perhaps even acknowledged in this society which sees girls and women as servants of men, is that even when a girl meets the challenge of staying in school, society still tags you as “just a girl.” Your concerns, your needs, your struggles are always secondary, which means never a priority. And as you get older, being a girl creates a mysterious sexual dynamic that enters into most every interaction. There are so many negotiations that are not just gender based, but sexually charged. A girl needing support too often finds the situation has turned into a sexual negotiation, whether from extended family, school faculty, or whomever.
On the surface the biggest challenges to education for girls are economic constraints and cultural gender prejudices. But even if a girl is able to overcome those obstacles, she still faces day after day through year after year of thick, sometimes suffocating societal barriers that not only relegate her achievement as irrelevant, but demands her sexuality be negotiated at every turn.
Fortunately I discerned these evils early on and have come through. It doesn’t mean that this patriarchal society doesn’t still dismiss or attempt to negotiate my ambition as I walk out my destiny; only that I’ve graduated that diabolical school with honors and am living on a different plane now; one where I dictate the terms for my engagement. I am putting a demand on a different future for myself and my sisters. I carry myself as worthy of regard and respect, and those who don’t want to allow me that sentient right, dismiss themselves from walking this plane with me. My eye is on the world I believe we are able to create as together, we walk the walk our hearts and minds lead us to walk out. I am quite certain this path will lead us into the Congo of our dreams; the Congo we know is possible.