LEADERSHIP, CONFIDENCE, ACHEIVEMENT…A better community, saved lives, and a more secure country…. these are the products of a women’s education when it is wielded for good and used appropriately! DENIAL, RAPE, DISCOURAGEMENT, ABUSE… These are NOT the tools of women’s education and YET these are the tools that so many of us experience in this process.
My experience of women’s education is one of both triumph and tragedy. The triumphs facilitated learning while the tragedies are barriers that exist for women still today. I have written and re-written this week’s assignment so many times… It is challenging to share my story, but I am comforted in doing so with you.
My barriers to education begin with my mother, and the barriers she faced. For her, school equaled abuse. She could not recite her multiplication tables and was beaten. English was not her first language, which made spelling a challenge; this meant she was unable to sit down from the wounds inflicted. She hated formal school, and taught herself everything she needed to know, even how to run an international on-line business!
Education was not something one needed in her mind. She just wanted me to get married and teach myself everything, but this did not work for me. I loved school. One of my earliest memories is of the scientific process. My teacher put three bags of dirt and seeds on the windowsill. We systematically varied the food and water given to these seeds and measured their progress each week. One of these bags of seeds produced a plant. These little bags of seeds planted in my mind a method I would never forget and a desire to go into science. I didn’t listen to my mother and I didn’t listen to a society that said “girls don’t go into science”.
In my early years of school, I was fortunate to have teachers who cared, and teachers who dared. They gave me time in the lab and extra problems to develop my math skills. The American Association of University Women published a recent report that shares how women are STILL told not to go into science, and eventually, they do fall behind in skills, but these skills can be made up with training (http://www.aauw.org/resource/why-so-few-women-in-science-technology-engi...). Thankfully, my teachers pushed me farther than I knew I could go intellectually, and believed in me, so I believed in myself. I will never forget the joy of receiving an A+ on my final physics exam or the scholarships that gave me a chance to be there.
I am no stranger to barriers however. My path to a PhD included social exclusion, family tension, discouragement, harassment, and violation of my most personal private space. This is no way to learn. It was only due to a female support group that I was able to continue in school and decide for myself what would define me. I refused to give any power to those who tried (or did) take it away. My ultimate success would be in finishing school: No one could take that away from me.
I later mentored students that others had discounted. They were minorities, single teenage mothers, and girls with disabilities- and these girls were Phenomenal! They were girls with an attitude and a reason, like me. With investment of time and conversation, they transformed their world and the world of those around them. When they learned their power, they took FLIGHT! I envision a world where ALL women know their power. Can you imagine???
I recently learned that states with higher gender equality are more positively correlated with a lower likelihood of intra- and inter-state conflict, higher state wealth and income, and higher state security (http://www.womanstats.org/). Even when controlling for differences in income levels, investment rates, economic “openness,” popula¬tion, and labor force growth, nearly half of the difference in annual economic growth can be attributed to the education gender gap. Did you know we had this power?? Did you know that science and technology is a unique driver to positive social change?! What if everyone in the world knew this?! What if we all had a safe space for education?! What a beautiful peaceful place that would be!!
HOW do we create this world of women’s education? It starts right here and now, sharing our stories. In connecting with other women I have found a home in my heart. I have found encouragement to utilize these platforms, start a blog about science and diversity, assurance that volunteering in science education policy will have an impact, and I’ve dared to dream farther. I dare You to dream farther, and I know from your stories that you ARE! And you are Inspiring!
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Girls Transform the World 2013.