It was supposed to be just another normal night at Guides. We had had a bridging event with the Brownies the week before and were finishing up the topic of Empowering Girls. We needed to cover some of the statistics regarding the status of women and the difficulties that they face as part of the Challenge we were working on. I expected bored looks. I expected the girls to want to quickly move on to something else. I expected less than what I should have from my girls. What I didn’t expect was the eye opening experience that I got from the girls. I don’t think they expected to learn as much as they did either.
Our topic for tonight was the women of Cyprus. Now I am profoundly geographically impaired. I can find my way around local towns and cities and know most of the lay of the land in Canada. If you ask me about something on the other side of the world, it’s doubtful that I will even know what ocean its’ borders rest upon. I can’t seem to keep straight what continent holds what countries, which holds what cities, which holds what capitals. I know that I really enjoy souvlaki, that Sushi is quite delectable and that a good pasta carbonara came make me swoon but don’t ask me where the countries these dishes originate from are located on this big blue marble we live on. So needless to say I might be the last person you want teaching your daughter about the geography of Cyprus but luckily we were focusing on the occupants not the geography. The statistics that this booklet provided for me were staggering. I have a certain amount of global awareness but even I was shocked by what goes on and how women are treated. Equality is not a word commonly heard in Cyprus. As we began to discuss some details, I asked the girls to guess the statistical answer as to the women to men ratio for certain things like job equality and wages. They were quite off base. When each statistic was revealed and we explained what it meant, the indignation that was evident on most of the girl’s faces was remarkable. The sudden “you’ve got to be kidding me’s” and “oh my God’s” were enough to warm your heart. The fact that these girls knew this was wrong and were strong enough to voice it, really brought home to me how lucky we are. The more we talked, the more it was evident to me that this gift of living in Canada was somewhat lost on the girls. Never having known anything but the warmth and security of our maple leaf gave them a skewed view of what women across the globe deal with. Women are intentionally uneducated, we told them, and they didn’t seem to grasp what that meant. When we explained that reading and writing were not allowed by some women, they were shocked. When we took that further and advised that in some countries boys could go to school but girls couldn’t, they giggled a little in the way only those who have to go to school and wish they didn’t would. When we explained that in some countries a woman became a man’s property when they got married, they didn’t quite get it. When we explained that some women were not allowed to work at all outside the home, they were puzzled as most of their moms work. When we explained that a woman might work the same hours as a man but do three times the housework, they were indignant so hopefully that indicates their dads pitch in. And when we laid out how much less a woman makes for doing the same work as the men they were also cleaning up after, they got REALLY angry. That is when I stole my husband’s saying and explained to the girls that by being born in Canada, we had “the golden ticket”. We had access to health care, education, employment, family services, grocery stores, libraries, parks and so many other things that we take for granted every day. Then we spoke about how girls their age had to fight every day to find something to eat. How girls their age were working in garbage dumps and fields to make money for the family. How girls their age were expected to help take care of the family instead of going for a bike ride or out to the movies, which weren’t even possible anyway.
I watched as the girls processed this new topic. I watched how they were now able to apply the information they had just heard to themselves. I watched how they realized, even a little bit, how lucky they are. I remain hopeful that they have a little bit more appreciation for the life they get to lead under the protection of the red and white flag we call our own.
We also took this time to talk to the girls about how they think they should be treated. Did they think it was fair to earn less than a man ? Did they think it was fair that a man could just throw them out of the house and take away their children ? Did they think it was alright for a man to hit his wife because their country dictates that she is his property ? The resounding answer was no.
I reminded them of an activity we did called the Walk of Fame. An opportunity to be proud of our unique qualities and to shower each other with praise and positivity. This is where we advised them that we think they are fabulous. The girls that are ours to Guide. These girls who grow with us each year. These girls that teach us as much about ourselves as we hope to teach them. I reminded them that no matter what, they are fabulous and no one has the right to treat them badly. I reminded them that they are special and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. I reminded them to remember that they are fabulous no matter what. And if someone did not treat them in the fabulous way that they deserved, then they needed to talk to an adult or even one of us. I watched as one by one they nodded their heads and took this in. I watched and wondered about all the girls we were talking about across the globe and if anyone would ever tell them that they were fabulous. I would guess not.
As these girls that are ours to Guide grow into the women they will one day be, I wonder sometimes if they will remember these times. I wonder if by letting us into their lives, we will have some influence over the decisions they will make, the paths they will follow and the people that they will allow on to their journey. My hope is that while they cling to the childish notion of being fabulous now, that this will stay with them as they grow into fabulous women. I pray that they will never have anyone tell them that they deserve anything less than the fabulous life they can build for themselves. I hope that as they grow to appreciate the gift that it is to live in Canada, that they will not forget their sisters in Cyprus and countless other countries whose lives are not quite as fabulous as they deserve. Maybe as they grow from girls to women they will learn as much from each other as we learned from them and pay it forward to guide others to be fabulous.