More about KYGN…and feminism

More about KYGN…and feminism

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.

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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.

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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.

22 Comments

  • Jack Moscrop

    January 26, 2016 at 7:17 pm Reply

    From small acorns grand oaks grow and a library is a perfect acorn 🙂

    • Joe

      January 26, 2016 at 7:25 pm Reply

      Couldn’t agree more – I hope the library will be the springboard to a better life for the girls and boys at the KYGN school.

  • Vetexbart

    January 26, 2016 at 8:45 pm Reply

    This is such a nice project Joe! It’s so strange that educating girls is not yet seen as a priority in some countries 🙁

    • Joe

      January 26, 2016 at 9:13 pm Reply

      I know…it just goes to show how far we still have to go. But that the school exists in the first place does indicate that things are, slowly but surely, beginning to change 🙂

  • James Cottreau

    January 26, 2016 at 8:55 pm Reply

    Sometimes we find ourselves when we help others learn. Not only in respect to doing good, but in understanding our commitment to humanity.

    • Joe

      January 26, 2016 at 9:15 pm Reply

      Too true James. Christmas has passed, but as Jacob Marley said in the Dickens classic, ‘humanity is my business’, as it should be always.

  • Madi | Restless Worker

    January 27, 2016 at 2:58 am Reply

    Such a heartwarming post – thanks for sharing Joe!

    • Joe

      January 27, 2016 at 7:14 am Reply

      No worries, and thank you for the kind words 🙂

  • Sierra

    January 27, 2016 at 3:53 am Reply

    This is fantastic – I’ve heard so many wonderful men express the same thoughts you did, that they’re not really a “feminist”… but it is all about equality, and that is something we can all get behind and support regardless of gender.

    • Joe

      January 27, 2016 at 7:16 am Reply

      Precisely, and that’s why I hope any stigma around the word ‘feminism’ will be removed soon…thanks for dropping by 🙂

  • anchoredinalaska

    January 27, 2016 at 4:37 am Reply

    I have goosebumps. Thank you. I am a teacher as well. This spoke to me on so many levels. I wish you the best, thank you for sharing your story 🙂

    • Joe

      January 27, 2016 at 7:17 am Reply

      You’re very welcome and I’m glad this post has connected with you. It’s the whole reason why I travel write! Thank you 🙂

  • Jessica

    January 27, 2016 at 9:16 am Reply

    Education and Women are two powerful points in the world. Hats off to you for doing such thing to make these two work together! 🙂

    • Joe

      January 27, 2016 at 3:41 pm Reply

      Thank you. Like I say, it’s a small step, but we have to start somewhere 🙂

  • Mukul Bhandari

    January 27, 2016 at 1:07 pm Reply

    Hey amazing work there bro 🙂
    It is very important to realise that apart from personal growth, women empowerment is also the master-key to development of an underdeveloped nation.

    • Joe

      January 27, 2016 at 3:42 pm Reply

      Thanks, and you’re absolutely right. Let’s hope more people, and indeed governments, realise this in the future too!

  • Dara Denney

    January 27, 2016 at 4:15 pm Reply

    I hate how misunderstood the word “feminism” is. I think it is funny that you confronted with that word a lot just because you work for an all-girls school in Tanzania. This project seems really great though. Looking forward to hearing more.

    • Joe

      January 27, 2016 at 5:42 pm Reply

      It’s actually in London I work in an all girls’ school, but yes, I take your point. And it’s a great project to be working on – very exciting indeed 🙂

  • Kaley

    January 27, 2016 at 5:38 pm Reply

    It’s easy to look at feminism through the Western lens, but it is in places like these at the true meaning of the world really takes shape. Thanks for sharing.

    • Joe

      January 27, 2016 at 5:43 pm Reply

      Very good point! All too often we can try and shoehorn our values in to places where they become out of context. Thanks for this comment 🙂

  • EVANGELINE CORTES ARCENAS

    April 20, 2016 at 9:28 am Reply

    an oak tree is once a nut that stood its ground…….cheers to KYGN!

    • Joe

      April 20, 2016 at 3:23 pm Reply

      Absolutely, it is from such humble beginnings that great things come 🙂

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