It is quite ironic that I, a black woman who is very attuned to gender and racial inequality, would be blinded by my privilege of having access to continue to pursue higher education. While there are many women in the United Kingdom who do not have this privilege. I was totally oblivious to the plight of some young girls and women who encounter challenges within the home because of their desire to learn. There is a culture war right here in the UK that affects girls and women who are forced to choose between attaining educational success or fulfilling traditional gender roles.
Through my mentoring I met a young girl, who shared with me during our conversation her desire to do well at school and continue into further education and the conflict she was having with her parents. She lives in a household where patriarchal attitudes and cultural traditions do not recognise women as equal to men and therefore education is perceived as being reserved for ‘men only’.
This cultural tradition is popular in other countries and is accepted by some women who live in these cultures. But what happens when different cultures are forced to collide when individuals migrate to countries where gender equality forms part of the social system?
I asked myself this question when I was faced with having to think about how I could mentor this young girl. I felt I would be selling the mentee short if I was not prepared to consider and seek information about the socio-cultural limitations she found herself in. I am referring to her reality of living in a country that provides free education for all regardless of gender, but living in a household in which she had limited influence over the decision-making process that shape her life.
Through my research I realised that customs are pre-established and difficult to break loose, because in some circumstances to turn away from established order can lead to permanent exclusion from the family. I had to take this into account and use this knowledge as a basis for exploring the situation with her.
I must admit at first it was difficult for me to fathom what it must feel like to be in turmoil, stuck between ‘a rock and hard place’, so to speak. As this young girl wants to respect and adhere to her parents dreams for her to become a wife and mother, but faced with having to possibly disregard her education and career aspirations.
We discussed various approaches to her situation. I encouraged her to reflect on her options, but in the interim she should continue to work hard to attain the grades she needed to continue in FE. It is easy to want to give advice, but in this situation, it was important to empower her to devise her own strategy that would take time and thought.
As mentioned in a previous post, I continue to learn a lot about myself and the intersection of my own privilege and oppression, while mentoring others.