This is a guest post by Saleha Qazi, also known as Bibi Sally.
Bibi Sally is a life-long educator and student. She is always inquisitive and satisfies her curiosity with a ton of research about everything from historical events to nutritional facts. She is an entrepreneur, a storyteller, a woman who consistently works toward the development of other women and society in general. She is a translator, speaking nine languages and doing translation work for at least three of them. She is known as Mwalimu (teacher) and a true lover of humanity. I have the pleasure of calling this phenomenal woman, my mother; by birth, and would be by choice. Please read her post and give her feedback. You are most appreciated!
More than 50% of the earth’s population is comprised of the female sex. In all fairness it would appear normal that in this age and time at least half if not all of them would have access to decent education. However, it is not so. The world is divided into several categories in which education gets confused with empowerment.
Mostly in the Western world women and girls have access to education to all levels, but they are not all empowered. This is not so in the rest of the world. Let us see the difference between the two.
Basic education, in the conventional meaning, is going to school for about twelve years. The quality of this education varies greatly. In most of the African countries south of Sahara the quality of education in public schools is rather poor. After seven years of primary education most students don’t know their own language well, let alone common subjects like geography, history or biology. And those who get through to the secondary schools barely speak English or French languages used as medium in the schools. The private schools offer quality education at a high price.
Education is meant to empower.
For a small percentage this is reality.
Some of the girls who live this reality become the movers and shakers of the rest of the world. In this echelon we find women leaders who fight their way to the top by all means. They become ministers, members of the parliament, doctors, business women, professors, teachers, lawyers, actresses and what have you. They live in better houses, bungalows, mansions, and have several house workers working for them and their children. They are the ones who can take expensive holidays, and travel in good cars and by air. Several have good marriages and a few marry many times. These are the ones whose children can go to good schools. Nonetheless, many of these children are not really empowered and are not street savvy like the counterparts, even with all the education.
Some, a good percentage, become the skilled professionals and workers of the world labour force. However, a large part of the population remains with partial education, few skills and just goes through the motions of living like any animal would. Many girls end up being single mothers and street workers exposed to all kind of cruelties. It’s almost as if that is their last card. Thank God that is not so. I would like to dedicate my blog post to this latter group of girls. Let us see how they live generally.
Most, if they are fortunate, manage to rent a small room where to live in alone, or share with another person. Some get jobs as housemaids, nursemaids, laundresses, vendors, clerks, sales girls, waitresses and so on. A small and more enterprising number become builders, plumbers, electricians and even truck and taxi drivers. This happens in towns and cities where many girls gravitate to, from villages and rural areas. Many come hoping to meet the man of their dreams, a few succeed and many remain deluded probably with an unwanted pregnancy and occasionally some disease. They work very hard, for mediocre pay, buy clothes from flea markets for their families, sending a little money now and then to their parents in the distant villages. They have a false sense of glamour expressed by using cheap pots and pans abandoning the ways of their ancestors of using earthenware pots, saying ‘they are for the oldies’. The connection between generations is cut off due to differences of life style and continued poverty.
All these girls and women need empowerment of some kind to move to the next level. We need to get out of the trenches of common habit, of acceptance of mediocre lives. We need to remember, relearn and teach how to become giants whether with higher education, or little education. Empowerment is a spiritual thing. As a spiritual thing it has meaning as it brings out the inner buried gems of qualities everyone possesses. Therefore spiritual education is necessary by the side of all the rest. How can we create programmes of empowerment that will be credible and effective and will respect the dignity of girls and women at all levels?
Many programs are merely to satisfy the ego of the program-maker rather than to meet the real need of the stakeholders.
Just to cite one incidence, women and girls in developing countries are learning to live less strenuous lives, with water and electricity moved closer in their lives. Some programmer comes up with an idea which will take the population backwards instead of forwards. They suggest to these villagers to build their outhouse away from the main house as in older times, the excuse being scarcity of water. This is just a temporary assistance, no assistance in reality. They should be finding ways to make water accessible which would improve lives overall, rather than a temporary relief to unsuspecting and naive people who don’t know how to say no to a wrong idea.
That is why when a person, who at prima facie seems to want to spend money to improve the lives of those to whom he isn’t connected, it is imperative to really look at the details, assess the short and long term effects of accepting such money, and saying no when the help will actually become a step backwards for those who accept the help.
In this day and age a lot of information is accessible to everyone, though it cannot be called education. If all this information were to be combined with the spiritual empowerment, harnessed and channelled properly it would be a strong empowering agent.
After this preamble let us talk about empowerment amply. We will talk of junior youth in particular. This is a special group of people. Let’s specialise further, and talk about female junior youth. I pose that the reader asks this question: “What would I do to empower a girl today?”
Let us assume these girls come from a rural community. Those who can read and write normally, go to nursery and then pre-primary schools. It is at this early stage that the spiritual qualities along side with other appropriate teachings are inculcated. We should start making classes with a small number of students so they and the teachers are not overwhelmed. At present the classes have too many children, at least twice or three times too many. There are enough teachers graduating in the country who are unemployed. Therefore more classes will give job opportunities to more people, most likely women.
The curriculum is supposed to be integrative with general education, a well-recognised business language like English and basic moral teachings. As the children grow older, some domestic science like needle work, cookery, home and body hygiene may be added. Many children today do not know much about these subjects. However, there is an opposite side of the coin, with girls not going to school and doing most of the house chores, even beyond their age. These girls do not get proper guidance for the tasks they are told to do. Therefore, they are more prone to accidents caused by ignorance. They are more exposed to health hazards.
Now, if all children could go to school, they would simultaneously learn how to manage house chores efficiently too. That is empowerment.
With moral education they learn the importance of honesty, responsibility, determination, teamwork and solidarity together with love and kindness. These teachings will empower the girls to be better citizens, mothers, entrepreneurs, workers and leaders.
When they finish primary education and are given an opportunity to get secondary and higher education, their syllabus can also be enriched with more profound teachings at all levels, including moral education. Basic technical training like cutting and tailoring, electricity, plumbing, masonry, and electronics may be integrated; as well as animal husbandry, agriculture, horticulture and aqua culture subjects. These are basic empowerment tools.
On the academic and art side youth could be educated in skills of writing, storytelling, poetry, painting, drawing, singing and playing a musical instrument. These are all hidden gemstones in all humans. They can be brought to surface with teachings of God. These empowerment subjects would be useless unless they were put in practice. In order to do this there must be practical and field classes which would be a part of the schooling system.
One big problem is that all this takes an enormous amount of money. That means the government has to have a special budget, maybe a reallocation of funds toward the education of girls, and boys as well, for if they are educated they more likely make ideal partners, husbands and fathers. A big responsibility lies on the parents too, who will have to make an extra effort to enable their children, especially daughters, to be educated and empowered.