Last week, after a particularly busy few days, I decided to come home and nap. I’m generally the kind of person who commits to being awake throughout the day, but it started to rain and earlier I rearranged my bedroom. Feeling like trying something new, I curled up in bed and closed my eyes.
Long story short: my nap was cut short when a part of the bed frame detached and caused my bed to collapse! Maybe I’ve been eating too many beignets lately, who’s to say, but I had a new mission: fix the bed and get back to my nap.
I called a coworker and asked if I could borrow a hammer and they skeptically said yes, so I made my way over to the health center. Before giving me the hammer, there were many questions about what I was going to fix, why, and who was going to help me. They were unconvinced that I knew what I was doing.
Walking home many people asked me why I had a hammer and were surprised when I said I was going to fix something myself. “You should have a man do that for you,” “Phoebe do you know how to use a hammer?” “Ha, I don’t think you can do it, Let me help you,” etc etc. When I confidently explained that I was going to fix something in my own house, people seemed amused, dismissive and skeptical. I was so frustrated that because I am a woman people doubted my ability to use a tool and questioned my competence on something I found to be an uncomplicated task.
One Anglophone man though, a carpenter, saw the hammer in hand and greeted me, “Ah my sister, you are working! That is good, a woman can do anything a man can do!” After just talking to a group of folks who had said the opposite, I was surprised and happy to have someone so easily back me up.
All people face countless micro-aggressions in their daily lives. While this hammer example is more explicit and mild perhaps than the other forms of sexist micro-aggressions I have faced as a volunteer, it is also a good example of how important and impactful it is to be an ally. Talking with Mr Walter and having his support raised my spirits and I felt less alone.
When I got home I was easily able to fix my bed (take that skeptics!) and started to think about how I can be a better ally to my sisters in Danfili. There are strict gender roles for men and women in our village, which impact the community in many ways, least of which, empowering girls to attend school.
Over the summer I ran a small meeting group for girls starting eighth grade this fall. We had several sessions and the four girls started to open up to me about their goals, challenges, and daily lives. During one session, we talked about gender roles and one girl shared how frustrated she is that her brother is assumed to continue school but for her every year it’s a discussion about whether or not she’s educated enough to do the tasks she will do once married, aka at the home.
Thanks to A2Empowerment, a scholarship program run by returned Peace Corps volunteers, these sessions are going to continue during the school year. Being able to reduce the financial burden of twelve families by paying their daughters’ academic fees and buying their textbooks is a powerful first step towards investing in these girls’ futures. I met each of the students last spring and we just had our first group meeting. I have high hopes that with these students this year I can encourage them to support each other and give them confidence to continue to do well in school.