The Commission on the Status of Women, a UN commission dedicated exclusively to promoting gender equality and advancement of women, has made the empowerment of rural women and girls its priority for the year to come. In my opinion, it’s of course a noble cause but empowering rural girls in the developing world is going to take a village (to borrow a line from Hillary Clinton).
Nothing illustrates this better than the story of Jackline Mantaine Lemeria, a young Maasai girl, who, at the age of 14, was brave enough to run away from an arranged marriage in her community. Jackline found shelter at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Center, a safe haven based in Narok (a town west of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya) protecting girls from child marriage and genital mutilation and she was able to attend school. With the encouragement of Agnes Pareiyo, the founder of the shelter, Jackline went one (huge) step further. She managed to reconcile with her father convincing him not only that she had made the right decision for herself but also not to arrange early marriages for her younger sisters.
As Scott Baldauf pointed out in his Christian Science Monitor’s article about the Tasaru Girl Rescue Center, “changing en entire culture –particularly a very distinctive one, such as the Maasai people’s- can be a difficult process (…) The key ingredient, activists say, is the consent of the people who find meaning from that culture”. Tanya Pergola, who runs “an organization in Tanzania that combines ancient wisdom with modern technology to create sustainable community development projects”, noted in a conversation [published here] (http://blog.tedx.com/post/5607552196/connecting-the-dots-a-conversation-on-maasai-culture), that many people in the Maasai community “don’t see the benefit of having their children leave their positions as cattle herders and nurturers of home and family to attend classes in far-away schools which often do not lead to decent employment opportunities”.
The approach taken by the Maasai Girls Education Fund, a nonprofit organization which provides scholarships to girls who have never enrolled in school, or who would be forced to drop out of school for cultural or economic reasons, therefore makes a lot of sense. “To have a significant impact, the education of girls must go hand-in-hand with the education of the community in which they live”, states the MGEF on its website. In other words, it takes a village to educate a rural girl….
@© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1782/Giacomo Pirozzi