The project I am working with has the aim of encouraging more girls to attend school and stay at school until they are 16 and to finish their education. Although many girls start school, in rural areas they frequently drop out and leave before taking their School Leaving Certificate. If a family can afford it, boys are often sent to private schools whilst the girls go to the local government schools, which frequently do not have a good reputation for high achievement.
|Women and girls washing clothes in the river|
In many of the classrooms I visit the girls are much less confident and less assertive than the boys. Frequently boys and girls sit on opposite sides of the classroom, which makes it very obvious when there is a difference.
|Girls revising for an exam the next day - before going home!|
After one lesson when I talked about this with the teacher, he told me “The girls would not want to answer anyway, so there is no need to ask them!” How hard to change these cultural attitudes! Girls want an education and, given the right opportunities, work hard to succeed at school.
Child marriage, although officially illegal in Nepal, still sometimes takes place. The girl may have no say in this, it will have been arranged by her father or parents, sometimes to a man much older than her. Some poor families say they just cannot afford to keep a daughter at home any longer. At marriage a girl become the possession of her husband and his family. She must move from her own family home into his, and will be expected to work very hard there at household chores and cooking. There will be no time to continue her education, no matter how good a student she was.
|Girls, bright and enthusiastic to be at school.|
This difference shows in all aspects of society. When walking along pavements in Kathmandu (we don’t have pavements in Besisahar where I live!), if a group of men are walking towards a woman, the expectation is that the woman will step off the pavement into the road to get out of their way. The traffic in Kathmandu is such that I am not prepared to do this, so I have rebelled against it and just stand still, making the men move around me, which they often look puzzled or cross about. Recently, I was being served in an office near my flat when two young men walked in. The female office worker immediately put my forms aside and served the two men before returning to finish serving me! Fortunately I don’t have a good enough command of Nepali to make a fuss about this – as I would have wanted to!!
The government is committed to encouraging more women to be represented in decision-making roles, both at grass-roots and higher political levels, but this needs to go alongside an increase in women’s confidence to speak out and be heard. One woman I met recently told me that although she is a member of the School Management Committee, she is rarely able to give her views because men, who talk and are not prepared to listen, dominate the S.M.C. Women must be confident to make their voices heard and men must be more prepared to listen.
|Big and Little Sisters working together|
This is what the Sisters for Sisters' project is all about!
The situation was summed up very well by one of the Headteachers I work with said "Girls must complete their education so that they become more confident and not down-trodden"