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Lions Roar : May 2007
WHEN I FIRST ENTER A REMOTE VILLAGE or tribal area, I’m usually greeted by the children. My photographic equipment gives me the perfect opportunity to interact without having to use words. A small crowd of kids usually gathers as I take photos and hand out Polaroids and digital prints. It’s my little magic show that allows me to quickly integrate into communities rarely visited by foreigners. Typically, the young boys are the bold ones, wanting to help or hamming it up for the camera. The girls, with few exceptions, are more hesitant and remain at the edge of the group. Over the years, I wondered how this difference be- tween preadolescent boys and girls could be prevalent in so many different cul- tures. I thought this was just an inherent quality of “girl-ness” and “boy-ness.” Then I began to realize that these roles aren’t inherent at all; they are taught and they are learned as part of a pattern of discrimination against women and girls. Seeing it manifested by such varied communities and in the behavior of such young children opened my eyes to how deep and universal gender inequality is. While the women’s movement in the West has made much progress, I continue to be shocked by how women’s rights are compromised in the developing world. It occurs in every arena: educa- tion, division of household labor, political representation, access to credit, available health care . . . the list goes on. In most of the rural communities I visit, girls are responsible for collecting firewood and water—tasks that can take several hours a day. They also help their mothers with the washing, cooking, farming, and child care. One reason given for sending boys and not girls to school is that their domestic work is critical to the family’s survival and their time cannot be spared for education. So while most women serve as the primary caretakers in the family, they have no chance to learn even basic skills, like reading or math, that would allow them to carry out their roles more effectively. It is common for women to have little or no direct say in community decisions and to have marginal access to land or other assets. Afar women of Ethiopia illustrate the point: They do the Local Heroes YELDA, 12. Unlike the girls in the secret school founded by Fahima (opposite), Yelda had to stay at home and help her family make carpets until the Taliban fell. Now she would like to become a teacher and specialize in English. She has enrolled in the Out-of-School Girls Project, a program supported by CARE and designed to help girls ages nine to fourteen rejoin the mainstream education system. Portraits of courageous women fighting the good fight and making a difference in communities around the world. Photographs and text by Phil Borges from his new book, Women Empowered. SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 62