Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Gender: My role and work

This is the second post on a mini-series about gender in Lesotho. While it can be read as a stand alone post, it is best read following Gender: An Intro.

Finding my own role as an American woman in this world has been interesting. In my mid-thirties, I am at an age where culturally men may still be single, but women are married and reproducing. When people learn I am unmarried, they often ask how many children I have, as it is beyond comprehension that I am not at the very least being a mother at my age.

I could push this wheelbarrow with my new gas tank, but
accepting help-even from ten year old brothers-is culture.
I like to do things for myself, however, when I left Pre-Service Training, I recognized that to accomplish any work in my community, I would need to integrate. If I constantly fight to do everything for myself, that makes integration harder, so I have tried to balance my fierce self-reliance with accepting help.

When I show up at an event, I am relegated to a chair, not encouraged to jump in on cooking, serving, or washing dishes. But, my chair is not placed with the men. So, I sit with either a few grandmothers or teenage girls, being served by the women because integrated or not, I am still a guest.

Women typically do not drink beer. If they drink, it is sweet wines and ciders. I once told a female friend that I prefer beer and was told, "Oh no, you must drink like a lady."


I have tried throughout my service to open people's eyes to the gender stereotypes here in Lesotho and to challenge them to consider that women or men can do all things. Early in my service, I became a member and the eventual co-chair of Gender Equality Lesotho [GEL], a Peace Corps Committee focusing on gender equality.

Through my role with GEL, I have encouraged other volunteers to work with gender in their projects and classes. Whether it celebrating international days connected to gender like International Men's Day, International Women's Day, and the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence or hosting gender related youth activities like clubs and camps, there is a huge amount that can be done to educate on gender and help bridge the gaps in the treatment of men and women in Lesotho and around the world.

Co-directing Camp GLOW last year was a highlight in my own gender work in Lesotho. It provided not only the opportunity to help 190 young women feel empowered to and deserving of achieving their goals, but provided a conversation starter about gender for countless conversations in the months preceding and following the camp. Similarly, helping with my friend Yolanda's Camp BRO meant I had a chance to interact with fifty young men and to show that breaking gender barriers is about more than just women.


Just over a year ago, Peace Corps and First Lady Michelle Obama announced a partnership program called Let Girls Learn. The goal of this impressive initiative is to decrease the obstacles and challenges young women face in completing their education and become positive, productive members of their society. In its first year, Let Girls Learn was introduced in 13 Peace Corps countries around the world.

To raise public awareness for Let Girls Learn, the #62MillionGirls campaign was launched and even included a billboard in Times Square. People from around the world-celebrities to school girls in rural villages participated-by uploading their photo. The goal is to achieve 62 million photos to represent the 62 million girls worldwide that do not have access to education.

I followed the introduction of Let Girls Learn closely, while celebrating that there are still many barriers for women, but school-based education is not one of them. Then, Let Girls Learn announced that in its second year it would more than double its reach. With twenty-three countries added, Lesotho made the list! My understanding is that Lesotho was considered despite its high prevalence of young women in school because those same young women face an HIV infection rate of 40%. No one else in the country is more at risk of contracting HIV.

Two months ago, we learned that Peace Corps would be hosting a regional Let Girls Learn Summit for a representatives from each country to participate in. After applying, I was chosen as one of the two PCVs to attend our summit! I cannot wait to share the exciting things we discuss and learn this week with my fellow PCVs, Basotho, and you!

1 comment:

Susan Pederson said...

Great series!!!!! Congrats on being selected for the summit!! Way to go! Have a blast and learn lots!