Girls, will you blaze your own paths?

There is a popular Beyonce Knowles you’ll hear whenever, and if you ever, go to a local discotheque; ‘Who runs the world (Girls)’. So, in the vein of other great feminist hits such as Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ and Janet Jackson’s early smash ‘Control’, the American songstress  is flying the flag for girl power.  While I’m sure that the song will get momentous amounts of airplay on our domestic airwaves I think that the lyrics of the song, which includes lines like ‘my persuasion can build a nation’ haven’t really begun to enter the psyche of the average Rwandan girl child. And it’s not fault of theirs.  Let me explain.

I do a bit of pro-bono mentoring once a month at FAWE Girls School, an activity that I absolutely love doing. I truly believe that the girls in this school are the next generation of Rwandan leader and I take my responsibility of sharing a little of my life experience with them very seriously. These ladies have great dreams; they want to be lawyers, engineers, surgeons and businesswomen of note and I believe that they will. Simply because they have the tools to do so: a great school that has produced a wondrous alumnus of high-flyers and a work ethic that brings to light my own laziness in high school. The mentoring sessions that I, and other fellow mentors, follow is one that was planned by both the Imbuto Foundation and the mentors themselves to give the young students the tools needed to get ahead in the world. Last week’s session was guided by the wish to teach the students ‘intergenerational communication’ skills. In other words, how to talk and truly communicate with older people.

The session went on swimmingly until the question and answer session. One of girls, who’d been quiet for the entire session, threw a grenade in the midst of the hitherto easy going session.  “I want to dress the way I choose, in jeans and a tee-shirt, but my mother wants me to dress more feminine; what am I supposed to do”? A fellow mentor, a well-accomplished young woman I respect, shocked me. “Listen to your mother, she advised, she loves you and wants the best for you. Wearing what she approves will show her that you respect and love her”. To say that I was dumbstruck is an understatement. And while I’m sure that we mentors weren’t supposed to clash outsight, I couldn’t take her statement without rebuttal.

I told the girls, in very clear words, that nobody loved them more than they loved themselves. That no one, not their parents, not their teachers, not their society had the right to dictate to them what they were supposed to do with their lives. “As long as you don’t break any laws or grievously hurt yourself or your family with the decisions you make, you have full rein and control of your destiny”.

Living in Rwanda since 1994, I’ve watched this society change in many astounding ways.  The development that this country has undergone has changed the way Rwandans deal with so many things. However, I think that our society can do a lot better in terms of giving girls the freedom to do what they choose. Why should it be okay for a boy (or man) to dress the way he chooses, to choose the career path they want, to live life the way they choose? And what makes it even more unfortunate is the fact that it isn’t necessarily us, the men, who make life difficult. When it is a woman that tells an impressionable young girl that her wishes mean nothing, I get worried about the strides that Rwanda is making in terms of gender relations and roles.

4 thoughts on “Girls, will you blaze your own paths?

  1. Margaret S. Maringa says:

    The Apostle Paul observed quite succinctly: “All things may be free — but not everything is expedient for me” (I Corinthians 10:23 ). True freedom is the basic common sense that constantly evaluates personal actions and words towards maximum profit.

    A recent documentary on Benazir Bhutto made a profound observation that she campaigned very hard to become Prime Minister without considering (or planning) what her government would do after she got that job. Consequently her new freedom and power (as Prime Minister) failed to gain the necessary power to control (or influence) the “old boys” network within the Pakistani military. Twice her government was undermined by this power bloc and the third time she was silenced permanently. Benazir would have achieved more for herself and for her people — if she had quietly married one of the influential Generals and learnt how to become the silent power behind the throne………..quality freedom (velvet coup) instead of quantity freedom (ballot results).

    It is not enough to hang your personal rebellion on the national flag or outside your family gates. Young women growing up in Africa today must think far beyond (and far above) these petty wars about clothes. It is also pure folly to fight and denigrate their own cornerstones (mothers). That is what my own mother has been whispering since I graduated law school thirty years ago …and I am still walking in her footsteps very seriously……because mothers are uncannily right every time

    Thaaai Thaaai (peace and blessings)

    P/S: thank you mothers for loving us through our teenage angst and beyond !!!!!!!!!!!.

  2. Dee El says:

    “Benazir would have achieved more for herself and for her people — if she had quietly married one of the influential Generals…” How can you possibly, as a WOMAN, think or write such a dreadful thing? Sounds to me like someone who condones violations of fundamental women’s rights! For one, women are able and capable of making valuable contributions to political development especially in a country like Bhutto’s, where female empowerment for sustainable dev. is desperately needed! Secondly, you can’t call it a personal rebellion when this issue has crippled many, if not all young women in that country! Where do you draw the line when it comes to obedience? What about personal growth? Yes authoritarian parenting styles “lead to obedient and efficient children, but they rank extremely low in happiness, social competence and self-esteem”!(Cherry K.) Making your own decisions (especially when it comes to small things like wardrobe matters) doesn’t necessarily mean, fighting or denigrating your “own cornerstones”. Decision making (an important skill for creative development, problem-solving, etc.) should be encouraged by all parents!
    I, for one, love and value my mother more than anything in this world. I also cherish her advice, but never has she tried to educate me by being intrusive or restrictive. Rather than wasting their time dictating sartorial taste; parents should be preoccupied with shaping their children’s personalities by establishing guidelines and standards for conduct, rather than being invasive and constrictive, and theeenn maybe, they won’t have to worry so much about the choices their kids make in life, including those regarding choice of garment!

  3. Margaret S. Maringa says:

    DEE EL: you have made some very good points — however please appreciate the following basic foundation of effective rebellions:

    1.PRACTICAL GOALS (attainable purpose): Obedience towards the people who are mentoring you — creates the opportunity to learn (and practice) valuable leadership skills for your future.

    This is precisely what Benazir Bhutto would have gained by marrying that Army General — she would have become THEIR INDSIDE GIRL WHO SHOULD BE PROTECTED AND SUPPORTED (not an unpredictable competitor whos should be relentlessly hunted, toppled and bombed) !!!!!!!

    2. PEACEMAKING (capacity for delayed gratification): In this diverse global village — we will always have to deal with contrary folks (in one form or other).

    Today you are confronting your mother’s irrational dress code. Tomorrow you will be confronting you employer’s even more irrational working code. Not to mention the neighbour who booms his jukebox all night. deeply sorry but you cannot do much to silence this obnoxious behaviour because your neighbour happens to be the son of the Life President !!!!!!

    You see — family rules and standards are the perfect place to learn the ART OF PEACEFUL NEGOTIATIONS WITH IRRATIONAL POWER. The delicate art of living successfuly between spitting cobras. the art of turning bitter enemies into permanent friends. Go to the library and read that timeless classic HOW TO WIN FREINDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE by NORMAN VINCENT PEALE.

    Wishing you the very best in your leadership journey …………….

    Thaaai Thaaai (peace and blessings)

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