“When you educate a young girl, you are educating an entire nation” – Swahili Proverb
A few times in recent years I’ve been asked if I’m a feminist. For a long time, I’ve tended to say ‘no’. Putting aside the obvious (I’m a man), I’ve also never read Germaine Greer or Simone de Beauvoir, never subscribed to the school of thought that women are better than men because all men are bastards, and absolutely have never advocated bra-burning. Sure, I’m no chauvinist or misogynist either, but you know…I like rugby, and heavy metal nightclubs, and real ale (that’s warm beer, to non-UK readers), and all that other ‘male stuff’. So, ergo, I’m not a feminist.
All well and good, but what’s all this got to do with the Tanzanian library project I’m leading, other than the fact the latest picture I’ve been sent of it is at the top of the page? Well, following on from my previous post about how I established a link with Kilimanjaro Young Girls in Need (KYGN), to answer that question, I need to discuss exactly who KYGN are.
Suffice to say, they do have a website where you can get more detailed information, but briefly: KYGN was set up by Annamariah Kanondo in 2007 after she was struck by the extreme poverty of children in the area (Mabogini, near Moshi), especially girls. So she resolved to do what she could to help, and KYGN was born, with the aim to provide an education, healthcare and a safe and stable home environment to children who would otherwise not have access to any of these things.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that without the backing of the school I work at in London, there’s no way this project would have ever got off the ground. What I haven’t mentioned is that the school I work at is an all girls’ school…hence, perhaps, me being asked if I were a feminist.
Part of my counter-argument was that working in a girls’ school wasn’t a conscious decision, or a political statement. I’d have been every bit as happy working in a boys or mixed school. But at the same time I wasn’t against the idea of working in an all-girls environment either. Because, to me, girls and women deserve the same breaks, the same opportunities and the same treatment as boys and men; not better, not worse, simply equal.
In terms of working toward this, some countries of the world are slowly getting there, but on average men are still being paid more than women. Sadly, in some countries the gap is as wide as ever, and Tanzania is one of them. Educating girls is simply not seen as a priority, and as Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world anyway, sending a girl to school is a luxury most families simply cannot afford.
That KYGN is doing all it can to address this situation is inspirational indeed, and that we are supporting them in their mission is a real privilege. Because, knowing how far our London school has come since it was set up in 1884 to teach girls cookery, sewing and ‘lessons in deportment’, the fourteen girls, two other accompanying adults and I who are visiting Tanzania this summer are passionate about ensuring the girls KYGN supports are afforded the equal opportunities in life that they deserve.
And it’s this, quite simply, that makes me a feminist. In fact, anyone who agrees with the above sentiments – male or female – is too. In one sense it’s sad that you have to declare yourself a feminist if you believe men and women should be equal, when that should be the de facto position of society. But in another it’s heartening that I feel as though I can call myself a feminist without, in all but the most ignorant of quarters, feeling as though I will be ridiculed for it. The world has moved on and no longer is feminism synonymous with extremism and man-hating. And nor do we need to put gender lifestyle-choices in neat little boxes either, so it’s perfectly OK for me to enjoy traditionally ‘male pursuits’ and still call myself a feminist.
Let’s get one thing straight here – I don’t for one second think that, in building a library for the KYGN School, we are going to change the world. But we are making a difference, no matter how small, just as KYGN itself is (there’ll be more on why I’m passionate about the library itself in a future post). KYGN makes a difference to the extent that, recently, they are now also accepting boys in to its classrooms. Why? Because, as a true feminist does, they believe in equality between boys and girls, and so are helping the boys who are in need in the area too. To me they are not betraying their initial mission statement by enrolling boys one iota.
To explain the rationale behind this project is, I’m sure you’ll agree, very important in providing you with some proper context and understanding in where we’re coming from with it. Lest we forget, the cultural needs of the places we carry out humanitarian work in should always be at the forefront of our minds.