Here she is a girl… In America, she is a woman

Alison Rivera - Senegal


February 11, 2013

“The randomness of where we are born and how much that determines who we become” – Blue Sweater p. 33

Popularly quoted as “Life is a box of chocolates.”  Just six words…but they resonate so much with women’s social status in Senegal. At training seminar 2, myself and three other fellows held a discussion on the lives of young Senegalese females.  Being teenagers, getting off topic is a norm.  From genital cutting to homestay issues, someone did say something that stimulated me into deep introspection.  After viewing the video of a fellow’s host sister, he briefly explained how she is about twelve years old; she goes to school and knows French, which is common in Senegal just uncommon in our current homestays. One fellow then pointed out that his sister goes to school because there is someone in the home that does not, whether it is a hired maid or an uneducated sibling or mother. My host siblings go to school because we have two maids who don’t. It is true… my host family was lucky enough to have the means to hire help, but the maids were unprivileged for having to work. Never having the chance to learn French because work is 9am-4pm (regular school hours).

I could have been born in Senegal, but I was born in America. Just the location of birth changed my fate and gave me a bright future. Not saying you cannot excel in Africa, but it is a true struggle that peeves me. We have different idols and different expectations to live up to. That is my personal conclusion. Just hear me out…

In America, the men want Barbie: tall, stylish, beautiful, intelligent, educated and independent. In Senegal, the men want a woman who resembles their mothers: a good cook, a mother and a housewife. If we (females) universally lived life for the purpose of marriage, how different things would be. Will there still be uneducated females in Senegal and more female graduates in America? What if Barbie was my maids’ idol and their expectation? Will they drop their rags and brooms for a French book?

At age 7, my mother encouraged the doll playing; at age 7, Fatou (one of the two maids) was learning how to wash her clothes by hand. Where does the drive of education come from? If the parents have the means to pay for the boy’s way in school, why not pay for the girl’s as well?

Maybe if we all believed in Barbie, we will never have to see duty trump the importance of education.

Alison Rivera