As UNICEF’s efforts to promote girls’ education gather momentum around the world, many young girls are beginning to open their eyes to the issues surrounding gender for the first time.
In north-eastern Brazil, teachers and students from the town of Tauá have created a survey project to foster discussions about gender issues. In the survey, teachers, administrators, community leaders and students were asked about preconceived racial and sexual prejudices. And for many, participation in the survey resulted in having to re-assess their own gender values.
Fifteen-year-old Lidiane Verissimo Da Silva was one of the most active students in the project. Before taking part, Lidiane says she had set ideas about her future, never considering other paths her life could take.
"Before, I thought like this: ‘I will marry, take care of the house and my children’. Then I started to attend meetings in Tauá, and started hearing about the gender issue," says Lidiane, currently a 9th grade student at the João Casemiro de Oliveira High School in Tauá.
Her teacher, Ana Celia Verissimo Cavalcante, notes some positive changes in Lidiane, saying that the project has helped broaden her way of thinking.
"Before, Lidiane was full of prejudices about certain issues, behaviours, and habits. She learned in the gender project how we work out the differences between men and women. We also have meetings with the parents outside of the classroom so they can work out the issue together with their children," explains her teacher.
In recent conversations with her daughter, Antonia Verissimo Da Silva has noticed some changes in Lidiane, particularly a new-found interest in gender equality.
"She tells us that every human being is equal. The man is not more than the woman; the woman is not less than the man. All are equal," says Lidiane’s mother.
Lidiane’s teacher stresses that it’s equally important to the gender project to have a supportive family. Lidiane is lucky to have one, guiding her in the right direction to adulthood.
"It’s like this: if the family doesn’t give support, then for sure, the student will not develop. In her case, she has a lot of support from the parents, her sisters, and the other people who live around her,” says the teacher.
Such discussions on gender issues are organized by UNGEI, The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, which advocates equal access to free, quality education for all girls and boys. UNICEF is the lead agency and Secretariat for UNGEI, currently coordinating girls' education strategies and interventions at the country level around the world. UNGEI’s work is based on the conviction that educating girls is key to a nation's development. To build a healthier, more peaceful and more equitable world, classrooms everywhere should be filled with girls as well as boys.
Now other communities in Brazil are starting their own gender projects, using the Tauá survey as a model. These gender projects are expected to play a crucial role in helping UNGEI achieve its goals of narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education by 2005 and ensuring that by 2015, all children complete primary schooling, with girls and boys having equal access to all levels of education.
As for Lidiane, she plans to work with younger students to help continue community dialogue on gender issues, but most importantly, pursue her education.
"I can be whatever I want. I think about going to the university, having a profession, any profession, the profession that I want. I was thinking about doing law school!" says Lidiane.