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2013 VOF Week 3

This is a difficult post to write. The assignment is to describe the barriers or challenges faced as a girl, and what springs to mind are the memories of the women in my life who succumbed to the patriarchal structures in my country. From my mother, my grandmother and other women in my life, like the nuns in grade school, all I can remember is that my points of reference were all these women who inadvertently formed part of the barriers that affected me, and them. I have tried to have frank conversations about this, but being a feminist in my country is looked down upon, even by people I have known for years.

My mother gave birth to my brother when I was ten years-old. Since she had been a teen mother, she wanted to impress upon me what a big responsibility a child was. At age 10 I was expected to take care of everything that an infant needed: feed, including for the 2 AM feedings, bathe, etc. As my brother grew, it became evident that my mother did not treat us the same. He had privileges that I did not have. To this day, we are treated differently. Culture is a difficult thing to change in just one generation.

When I was age 15, my grandmother decided that I did not need to go to school anymore. She said: "you know how to read and write, so I'll teach you how to cook and sew, and find you a husband in the military because they have a steady income". My grandmother wanted me to learn to sew because she was a seamstress, but the idea of marrying me off to some man in the military was her idea of finding someone who I would depend on. Talk about dis-empowerment! This was during the civil war in my country. Since I was taken out of school, I decided that I would join the military and earn my own "steady income". I showed up to an army garrison and asked about enlisting. The soldiers laughed at me. They said that all I was good for was for cooking and making tortillas. They flirted with me, and I left, furious and humiliated.

I joined a local medical brigade to become a medic, but this plan was foiled too when my mother sent for me. My grandmother told her I was "out of control" and would probably become a guerrilla fighter. It seemed that my biggest barrier was that no one cared what I wanted to do with my life. In retrospect, it may sound like typical teenage angst, but we were in the middle of a civil war, and I was fighting against what society had pre-destined for me: to become a teen wife, a cook, someone's dependent. I was fighting against being kept in a child-state for the rest of my life, in my mind I thought it was much like many Salvadorans were fighting for the right to own their destinies from the oligarchy and the military dictatorship that had ruled El Salvador for decades.

As the mother of two girls I am sensitive to my upbringing because I want to break the cycle. I'm sensitive to the barriers they face, albeit I am glad they do not face the same barriers I did, but they do have their own to face. I learned many things from the women in my life, both the rewarding and the not. I have learned to pick and choose what I will pass on to my girls, and the girls and young women I work with.

The one thing that my mother did teach me that has been my lifeline was that "education is the great leveler for women". She told me that with an education I would not need to depend on anyone, not a man, not her, no one. In spite of the barriers I faced as a girl, barriers that often felt insurmountable, through education I was able to overcome the majority of them.

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

Klaudia Mexico's picture

a Salvadorian fighter!!!

Dear Susan
It's clear your a a Salvadorian fighter 'cause you've fought for yourright to own your destiny. Congratulations on the life and academic endeavors that have overcome.
con afecto!!!
Klaudia

Klaudia González

susanncruz's picture

¡Muchas gracias y un placer

¡Muchas gracias y un placer conocerle por este medio!

Susan Cruz

susanncruz's picture

Also...

Klaudia, I was looking for the thread I titled "Inclusion" but wanted to respond that I would love to establish communication with your contacts. I just sent you a request via LinkedIn.

Susan Cruz

Klaudia Mexico's picture

I´ve approved your request.

I´ve approved your request. My email is gonzalezklaudia@gmail.com, send me an email and I'll introduce you to Liliam and Cynthia.
Muchos saludos
Klaudia

Klaudia González

susanncruz's picture

Thank you!

I look forward to connecting and hopefully collaborating!

Susan Cruz

torilynnfox's picture

Thank you for sharing this

Very well written and inspiring. I loved reading your article. You have a very strong voice and so much to tell. Keep up the good work!

susanncruz's picture

Thank you!

I appreciate your comment!

Susan Cruz

Mila's picture

so proud

Hi Susan,

Thank you so much for sharing your touching story with us. I am sorry to hear what you went through, although I do like to think that you made the best of it by breaking the cycle with your own daughters. Your honesty really makes your writing very powerful. It is captivating to read and I feel that all women can relate to one aspect or another to your story. I would love to hear your ideas for how to help girls and women overcome these challenges.

All the best to you (and your daughters),
Mila

susanncruz's picture

It's a long road...

I think the challenges presented by patriarchal structures are deeply rooted in a culture of violence. In Central America, violence is, and has been, a deleterious problem that spans over centuries, and I'm not just referring to armed conflict, like the civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Girls and women do try to push the envelope, but are often pushed back with violence. Violence at home, in the workplace, at school, in the streets. Girls and women have been conditioned to stay silent and like the old adage "if you can't beat them, join them", many women end up upholding and reinforcing the same structures that harm them, much like what I was referring to in my post here. It start with each mother and each father who realizes that both daughters and sons should be treated equally. It starts with teachers who do provide equal time, resources, attention and energy to both male and female students. It starts with the faith-based community....well, I'm not even going into this one because there are some religious structures that are just too entrenched in their ways, and one must pick battles.

Susan Cruz

Frances Faulkner's picture

Freedom Fighter

Susanncruz --

This is a fabulous post, one that resonates with honesty and truth, strength and leadership. I love your line about picking and choosing the good things from your childhood to use in raising your own daughters. In that simple (yet complicated) action, you create more change than you know in one single generation. You are focusing your energy into the things you most care about.

Keep up your good work.

Frances

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