A Circle of Women

People often ask me about why GVP is exclusively for girls or, alternatively, whether we intend to do something similar for boys. This topic is almost certain to arise on any given tour of the school and whenever I go out to talk about GVP. No matter how many times I hear and answer the question, I still find that I am somewhat surprised when it is asked. For years around the world, school was reserved for the most powerful in society - priests, scribes, physicians, and other specialists -and mostly for men. Public schooling for women, or any education outside of the home, is a relatively new thing, and the lack of access to it continues for girls today. Research into education for girls globally has been limited, but we have learned a great deal in the past 10 years. 

Today, we know that more than 130 million girls and young women are missing out on school every day around the globe. We know that girls and women spend more than 200 million hours combined each day gathering water for their families. We know that once girls reach the age of puberty, their access to school drops significantly, down to less than 25%. We know that women continue to lack access to certain careers and consistently earn less than their male counterparts for the work they do.

Many of the refugees that are being resettled in the United States and elsewhere are coming from geographical spaces that have been hard hit by conflict, poverty, and political upheaval. In many of these places, access to school is severely limited, and given hard choices, many families have chosen to support schooling their sons over their daughters. 

The girls at GVP often come from places where their formal education has been limited, and even after arrival here in the US they still deal with barriers (such as gender norms and poverty) that act to limit their access to ongoing and higher education. This is why GVP exists exclusively for girls and what makes us so unique. We are offering a solution and a model that is specifically designed to support young women who must contend with and overcome years of missed schooling, the trauma of forced displacement, and ongoing cultural and historical gender inequities. GVP recognizes these realities in all that we do. We serve a specific purpose. We are a special purpose middle school with a focus on meeting a very specific need.

In the midst of this COVID-19 crisis, I see how gender plays a role in exacerbating inequities for women. As I think about the single mothers at our school and our teachers at GVP, I recognize how women are continually expected to take on more than their share of work. In general in our country and in many other places around the world, women’s work outside the home is considered acceptable as long as the children or other family members living in the home can be cared for well by someone else—usually another woman. Otherwise, women’s work outside the home is considered extra or expendable. In this time of social isolation and school closures, working women (including members of our GVP staff) are being asked to manage working remotely from home, caring for children and other family members, and managing the home. Many of our GVP students are being called on now even more than before to care for siblings, cook, and clean. It has been challenging for them, too, to manage household and family demands with the new challenges of online schooling. At least when school was in session, there was a set time away from the home for study. Now, those lines are blurring and the challenges in making time for schooling are real for them, as managing work and home is for their mothers.

On top of this, the stress of coping with a new and unfamiliar crisis makes the risks of domestic abuse and violence more real for women and for children. Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime, and women with low education are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. The reason for this is rooted in the historical and current unequal balance of power between men and women.  

While I realize that truths like these can be difficult to face, it is important to recognize that GVP’s commitment to educating girls and young women is grounded in need and in making a difference in individual lives and in our shared community. Especially in times like these, it is imperative that we recognize inequities and embrace solidarity. We are united as humans in our stand against the virus. It is my hope that we also stand united in our work towards equity and justice for all and that we learn lessons that ensure future pandemics, crises, and conflicts don’t fall unequally on the shoulders of women.

At GVP, we dream a world, one girl at a time. We believe in the value and beauty of each and every girl and work together to ensure that refugee young women have access to the education they want and need to follow their dreams and transform our world. Research has shown decisively that better educated women are healthier, earn higher incomes, marry at a later age, and enable better health care and education for their future children. GVP is working to make this a reality not only for the 260+ students that have come to our school over the past decade but for other women around the world through our partnerships, presentations, publications, and powerful commitment to sharing what we learn.

One of our “unofficial” school songs is “Imagine a Circle” written by our own Ms. Elise and Virginia Schenck. This is one of the first songs that any new student at GVP will learn and we perform it regularly throughout the year: 

Imagine a circle of women who are
Powerful

Imagine a circle of women who are
Strong

Imagine a circle of women who are
Beautiful

We are that circle of women
We are that circle of women

Willing to share
Willing to care
Willing to learn to be free

We are that circle of women
We are that circle of women

I invite you to listen to the song on Ms. Elise’s website here: https://elisewitt.com/web/imagine-a-circle/. As a mother, daughter, wife, and sister, I invite you to join our strong circle and stand in solidarity with us to collectively imagine a world where women are recognized as powerful, strong, beautiful, and free and where they are provided equal access to education.

Next week, our students and teachers will be taking a much needed Spring Break, and I will take a break from blogging as I seek some rest and time to reconnect with my family and celebrate my younger daughter’s birthday. I hope the week ahead brings beauty and good health to you and your loved ones.