A comment I received yesterday challenged me to write this post.
“I am awed by the strength of so many women here. I am also angry that so much is expected and so little returned. It’s easy though to judge from my privileged life with an education, resources, work, and the choices I received…”
Several years ago I attended a lecture by a woman who broke the mold: Rigobeta Menchu. She grew up during the Guatemalan civil war. As a K’iche Mayan girl, her life was as hard as it comes. Against great odds, she received an elementary school education and later worked with civil rights groups. Her activism caught the attention of the Guatemalan army and a price was put on her head. She managed to escape to Mexico, and here she narrated her experiences to a Venezuela journalist Elizabeth Burgos. Her book begins:
My Name is Rigoberta Menchu and this is how my Conscience was Born
When I heard her speak, the audience was largely rural Yucatecan women, she began:
Ms. Menchu urged the 3,000 women in the crowd to step out of the box, to think of alternatives… to resist in small ways, and then in larger ones. She urged them to educate their children – she stressed that education is the key.
In the developed world, education is a given – everyone goes to school. We take this for granted. I worked as an educator in Mexico for more than three decades and over time, I saw firsthand the huge difference that education makes. Many of my first students now have excellent positions. Their degrees paved the way to new experiences and opportunities.
When just one person in a family has access to higher education, a better life is possible for the whole family. I am not referring to just material advantages but also inner growth and development. An educated person receives respect, and their perception of themselves changes – they pass this on.
There are many issues to be resolved in our world. But to me, number one is education. It is not so easy for tyrants to abuse an educated woman. She has an inner fortitude and stands up for herself. Mexico’s educational system is not perfect but it is firmly in place. Even in very remote areas, boys and girls receive, at a minimum, a basic education. (Once I met a teacher from the rural school network who would travel to far-away ranchitos, on horseback and convince parents to send their children to school…)
With increased educational opportunities, we will see less of the inequality that is foisted on underprivileged women (and men too) If you are looking for a way to really ease the marginalization in society… give financial support one of the many organizations that provide scholarships to needy young people. Or if you can, volunteer your skills, your mentorship, your example. You could help your young neighbor practice English, teach a housewife how to bake cakes she can sell to earn extra income, buy locally from home-based businesses, encourage education on ALL levels.
We cannot save the world. We cannot interfere in cultural dynamics. But we can make a difference by becoming involved in the solution… small as we may see our contribution, we can make a huge difference.