Friday, March 24, 2006

Girls Leading Our World

I need to play a bit of catch-up on my blog posts since I’ve been away so much lately. It’s hard to even pick a place to begin, from my colorful trip to Homa Bay to speak to a church group about AIDS to the momentum and interest building in my community for gender development issues.

The last few days has been a whirlwind of interviews with high school girls in my village to nominate some candidates to attend Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), a Peace Corps-sponsored experiential learning camp for girls that empowers them with skills and knowledge to be leaders in their community. Wow that was a boring sentence, but the underlying meaning is really exciting to me. I’ve been in my village almost nine months and I’m only just beginning to get a sense of the people and institutions that will be valuable resources to me on gender development projects, always a touchy issue.

Today I was talking with a woman who teaches at one of the girls’ high schools here, and with very little prodding from me she began lamenting all the discrimination and injustice that girls face in Kenyan culture. It was the same story I’ve heard over and over – girls are valued less than boys, so they are not encouraged to excel or even attend school, as a result they often end up in early marriages or pregnant without a partner supporting them, they are socialized to believe their role is to bear children (A woman attending one of my AIDS talks said, “If I were HIV positive and my husband were negative, I would just go back to live with my parents, and leave him and our kids in peace rather than be a burden to him, because I’ve already given him children so what more use does he have for me?”), they are socialized to defer to men and never question them, they are told they are not as smart or capable as boys, etc, etc. And as a result, girls grow up to be women who just accept their situation, unjust as they may feel it is, because they don’t feel empowered to change anything.

I’m excited after this week because I think by merely going around and talking to people about Camp GLOW I’ve revived a bit of discussion about girls’ issues. It’s something people in my community have always talked about, but now there is a hint of hope in their voices that with Camp GLOW girls now have a resource immediately available to them for empowering themselves. Like most perceptions of what I do and what the Peace Corps can do, it’s a bit overblown, as there won’t be any sudden equalization of gender relations even if all three girls I’ve nominated are invited to attend the camp, but at least I am starting to get a feel for the level of interest – and opposition – to gender development activities, and I’ll be able to work with people here to tailor programs to the specific interests and needs of this community.


Story from Homa Bay:

After living with the shy Nandis for so long it was slightly jolting to travel through Luo country, where people are seemingly more outspoken and not afraid of a little confrontation. I was waiting for a matatu in one town, glowing like Kryptonite as the only mzungu in sight for miles, when a woman approached me and started asking about me. What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do here? That sort of thing.

“My home is just there,” she said, pointing to somewhere between 50 yards and 15 km away. “Come over for tea.”

“Oh, thanks but I can’t,” I said. “I’m late and I need to catch the next vehicle that comes along.”

“Come to my home for tea,” she said. “It’s just there.”

“I’d love to, but I can’t,” I said, wondering if it was normal to go over to a complete stranger’s house for tea.

“Don’t refuse,” she said, getting visibly upset.

“Sorry, I really can’t. I need to be at a meeting,” I said.

The women looked me up and down with a frown on her face, then said, “Okay. I’d ask you for your mobile number, but you’re not very friendly.” Then she stalked off, ostensibly to take tea by herself.


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