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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.

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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Comments

Lylinaguas's picture

Well Done!

I can see your compassion for others by the mere fact that you found ways to extend help to your friend so she can finish the school year when her father died. You've done well finishing school with honors. Yes, you certainly have that leverage to dictate your terms of engagement. Education is empowering.

You've mentioned barriers to women getting an education. But what would you say are some solutions to these barriers, especially in your community where these exist and how can you be part in empowering them?

Lylin

Theresa's picture

Courageous

Nicole, you are very courageous and have the selfless ability to show compassion. Helping your friend finish her education through means of organizing the funds through your community was I am sure priceless to her. What a gift.

Your words describing the sexism found in just 'being a woman' is heard throughout the world. I have always been somewhat reluctant to speak of my experiences being the "American" and the stigma that brings with what people imagine in our country to be, but I can tell you the division is here as well, it's just more well hidden from view. A man with the same education and in the same creative industry that I am in, is almost always paid 20-40 percent higher in wage and this is common in many specialized industries outside of "support" roles in which are still the majority, 'women-based.' I cannot even begin to tell you the countless times that I have been placed in a secondary role situations as a woman first or the sexiest remarks I have endured throughout my education and my career. My point; we as women are too often still subject to be that of objective care-takers first, while a man would never be expected to be such.

I am proud to see you making a change in your community of Congo, you have your work cut out for you. But, you will continue to make a difference with your courage with helping women and yourself with achieving their/your goals with education and a future of having a voice.

Keep using your gift and be strong.

Kind regards,

Theresa VE

erinluhmann's picture

We Stand United

Nicole,

Like Theresa mentioned, I think you're story has broad appeal because sexual discrimination is something that women experience all around the world, on some level or another. So I think you're story would resonate with readers everywhere, even if they experienced a different version of sexual discrimination at school or at work. Being able to highlight these connections for the reader is a mark of a talented writer.

That being said, the story you share is well grounded in your personal experiences in the Cogo. I admire the fact that you helped your girlfriend continue school and have taken a stand against society pressures that belittle women.

I look forward to reading more of your writing!

Best,
Erin

Deqa's picture

great vision

My dear you have outlined a barrier to basically many things education included for women across the world. Yes women face discrimination just for being women. And I believe the solution lies with women to create opportunities for each other and stand together and you have achieved this by helping out your friend to continue her education. You have leadership qualities because you have a good heart. Keep up the good work my dear and i must say beautiful writing.

Love
Deqa

Lea's picture

Merci!

Chère Nicole,

Vous avez écrit un très bel article concernant les problèmes auxquels sont confrontés les femmes congolaises. Nous continuons de vivre, malheureusement, dans des sociétés où les inégalités entre hommes et femmes persistent. La tradition influence les mentalités et parfois empêche une certaine ouverture d'esprit.
Vous avez effectivement eu beaucoup de chance de grandir dans une famille qui vous a encouragé à poursuivre vos études et vous a permis de prendre confiance en vous même.
Vous avez fait preuve d'une extrême générosité en contribuant aux études de votre amie. Je pense que peu de gens dans ce monde possèdent cette capacité de donner et de venir en aide à ceux qui en ont vraiment besoin.
J'espère qu'un jour la situation pour les femmes congolaises s'améliorera un jour et qu'il y a aura d'autres comme vous qui réclameront haut et fort plus de droits, d'égalité et de respect.
Léa

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