Maja Ahac wrote the following essay about her experiences in Kivoga, Rutana, Burundi to commemorate International Women's Day, Wednesday March 8.
The sun was beating down relentlessly. I opened my umbrella just to make it slightly more bearable. Instead of joyously watching the newly built school, I could only think about the ruthless heat. Were the locals not feeling hot? I “suffered in silence” because I did not want to embarrass myself by commenting on the heat. At least then I was silent, yes . . . I was silent. And no, I will not show how much spoiled I am. No way!
Violette was the first neighbor of "our" school. Somehow we managed to communicate. Hands are a very useful tool when there is a language barrier and everything else fails. I visited her home, and we have become a very strange couple. She was black as night and I, white as a ghost. Mzungu, as they call whites. When her husband saw us, he was laughing so loudly that all remaining villagers came to see us. Great!
Villagers were joyously loud. They explained to me how great they found their new school, how happy the kids are now, and how thrilled the parents are as well. I was in heaven.
Violette was silent all that time. She had her baby on her chest, and the baby was scared. Out of the fear of the "white phantom," the little one was constantly breastfeeding. I asked our interpreter to please ask Violette's opinion. What is she thinking about? Is it about heat? Please, let it be heat.
"It is so good that you visited us. A woman. You showed our girls that women can also manage projects. Leading organizations. Be managers and leaders.”
I was stunned. These are her thoughts? She sees me as a role model for her daughters? She was surprised at the fact that women too can dream and make their dreams come true?
Every year, at least 15 million underage/teenage girls are married. 37,000 girls every day. 133 million women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation. In some parts of the world, girls are still not attending school. Women are paid less than their male colleagues although performing the same work. In management positions, there are few women.
Violette and I continued our conversation. What do we want? What are our dreams? Dreams of happiness, peace, prosperity and a better future for our children. While my daughter plays soccer and attends music school, her daughter of the same age gave birth herself and dropped out of school. Who is the father, I did not dare to ask. Often, young girls like her are rape victims, and the perpetrator usually remains unpunished. Violette is younger than I am and already a grandmother.
One of the targets of better and happier life by 2030 for our big human family is to reach equality for boys and girls, men and women. Why? Gender equality is beneficial from every perspective. A society where children and adults of both genders have equal opportunities is much healthier. Poverty is reduced, protection is better, people are happier. Businesses that include more women in top management positions generally have higher profits. Partners who share domestic tasks and responsibilities are happier in their relationships.
I said goodbye to Violette and her family. Maybe someday we will meet again. Who knows. Across the globe live many Violettes. There are many dreams. Every day. Dreams for all girls and women, boys, and men! Because we love to be happy."
Maja Ahac is country director for ADRA Slovenia. This article is reprinted with permission.
Photo credit: Milan Vidaković
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