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Writers' Fortnight selection: Gender imbalance in under-developed countries
Writers' Fortnight selection: Gender imbalance in under-developed countries
By Kirsty Bell, Grade 9, East Campus
I have always been a feminist and I have always been open about how much I support what it stands for. Many huge advancements have been made for women, that does not mean our fight is over. Women (including myself) face difficulties in this world, I never really thought about how much harder it may be in less developed countries with more traditional mentalities as compared to places like Singapore and the United Kingdom. This brings me to the topic of what is known as “White Feminism.” White feminism is a form of feminism that does focus on the struggles of white women. However, it fails to address forms of oppression faced by women of color and women lacking other privileges. Someone who has acknowledged how they’re unconsciously a White Feminist is Emma Watson. Emma Watson once wrote in a letter acknowledging her white privilege, “It would have been more useful to spend the time asking myself questions like: What are the ways I have benefited from being white? In what ways do I support and uphold a system that is structurally racist? How do my race, class, and gender affect my perspective? There seemed to be many types of feminists and feminism. But instead of seeing these differences as divisive, I could have asked whether defining them was actually empowering and bringing about better understanding. But I didn’t know to ask these questions.” She went on to speak about how she was holding herself responsible in her mission to be a more intersectional feminist. I felt it was very courageous and admirable for her to speak out about her mistakes, especially after being looked at as an unproblematic icon by all kinds of people. Through Watson’s powerful statement, I have been inspired to write about the Gender Imbalance in underdeveloped countries. Not only would I like to spread some awareness on the current situation for girls in underdeveloped countries, but I would also like to use this editorial as an opportunity to learn to become more of an intersectional feminist myself.
At school, fellow peers and I spent two weeks listening to speakers talk about several topics. The speaker that left a lasting impression on me was Robyne Hayes. Robyne Hayes is a researcher and a photographer who had a lot to say about her opinions on child marriage and the power balance between male and female in third-world countries. She spoke about her experiences as a researcher and photographer as well as how passionate she was about fighting to abolish child marriage. She uses photography to spread her message and it most definitely works effectively as she is able to gain empathy and understanding by capturing the raw emotion of many different people through her pictures. After hearing her talk, I was very shocked at the struggle so many girls were going through in countries like Ethiopia, Nepal, and Bangladesh. When girls get the indication that they are going through puberty through getting their period, they are already considered eligible for marriage. Some girls as young as 8 years old can get married. In fact, ⅓ of girls are married before the age of 18. I believe this dreadful statistic just shows how these girls are only valued for their ability to be a mother and a wife. What’s even worse is that a majority of these girls’ bodies are not physically or mentally ready to have children. It could result in several mental and physical health issues. To know what life is like for the girls forced into child marriage, girls are made to stay at home, live with their in-laws, practically be made slaves to their husbands and have pretty much no social life. This is due to the power imbalance between the girl and the man in the marriage. Since they have to stay at home and do housework, about 130 million girls in underdeveloped countries are out of school. Not just that, but due to how young the girls usually are, they are more vulnerable and more prone to abuse.
While I cannot directly relate to this, I most definitely have a strong opinion about how much I disagree with child marriage and the gender imbalance in countries like Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Nepal. I understand that in places like these, it is a cultural norm to do things that seem politically incorrect to people like us. The only way and best way to justify changing a cultural norm is that it is a basic human right being exploited and that it crosses a line of being wrong rather than traditional. Girls are being practically held captive and made slaves to their husbands and I would like to be part of the voice that helps fight for girls to be able to live their life without having to fear for when they get their period.
At UWCSEA, we have several services that fight exactly for this cause. I recently joined one called “GEP” (Generation. Education. Period). GEP mainly focuses on putting an end to the stigma on periods in third-world countries. In places like these, girls skip school whenever they get their period. Within 3 years, they have already skipped about an average of 130 days of school. Due to missing so many days, girls tend to drop out of school and due to lack of education, it’s harder for them to get jobs and earn money. Then, as last resort, they turn to exploiting themselves for money. GEP helps by sewing sustainable and reusable pads that can be used for up to 3 years (which makes up for those 130 days missed) Not only that, but they also help educate girls on how to deal with their periods and other things that guide them through their growing years. Through this, girls can learn that they have strength since they can go about their day while on their period and will most likely realize they have a voice that deserves to be respected and heard. This can help lower the number of girls married once they have their period. I mentioned Robyne Hayes earlier, she has done a multitude of projects in these countries and one that relates to what I am talking about is called the “Tipping Point” project. In which it also helped make periods less of a taboo in such countries. Not only that but it stopped 50-70 child marriages, girls got the freedom to move, to do what they wanted, girls even got to re-enroll in school and thanks to that, girls were allowed to get proper jobs and get income. This shows that if we give the opportunities for the community to learn, they can decide what they need and be able to learn and change their ways. Change is all about access.
Through Robyne Hayes’ talk and my own personal research. I can definitely say I have learned a lot about the struggles of women in less developed countries. Yes, women in developed countries do face difficulties too but even they take certain things for granted. I am grateful that I am able to use a platform to shed light on an issue that some feminists do not know about or unfortunately ignore. I will not stop learning to become a more intersectional feminist nor will I stop spreading awareness about the issue of the gender imbalance in these places as well as white feminism. Every woman deserves a voice just as much as any man does and I want to be part of the change that makes everyone equal. To end off, I want to quote from Robyne Hayes that I feel perfectly summarises how to know if you want to be an activist for something, “If it moves you, you have to something about it”
"White Feminism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Mar. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_feminism.
Muller, Marissa G. “Emma Watson Addresses Her White Privilege and ‘White Feminism’ in Letter to Her Book Club.” W Magazine, 9 Jan. 2018, www.wmagazine.com/story/emma-watson-white-privilege-feminism.
This student article was selected for publication among the Writers' Fortnight-inspired student writings. The assignment to students was to tell the story of someone they met during Writers’ Fortnight who they feel embodies an important social issue - OR to use the stories of several speakers to engage with a shared human experience - OR to write about a matter of personal importance - and to do so as authentically, responsibly and powerfully as possible.
To explore more of the Writers' Fortnight-inspired student writing, please view our Flipboard.