When I was a little girl, I watched my mama tear her wedding pictures into pieces. The pictures had been beautifully displayed on the wall in our house, depicting my mama and father looking crazy in love and happy. I couldn’t understand why my mother would tear up these pictures, the only evidence of beauty in my parents’ relationship.
The real picture of life in my household was one of domestic violence and struggle. My father and some paternal relatives physically, verbally, and emotionally assaulted my mother every single day, openly in front of us three girls.
I am the last born of my sisters. We grew up in a rural village in Kenya where Mama was beaten down and suffered so much stigma and discrimination for not bearing sons. The domestic violence affected not only my mother and us but also the very people who perpetrated it, especially my father. My father was a churchgoing career man who worked at the bank and also as a teacher. He, too, suffered societal norms of boy preference and was publicly insulted as the “sonless, unmanly, uncircumcised woman.” Without a son, a man was considered unworthy of community leadership or respect, unless he remarried and bore sons to carry on his name and inheritance. My father eventually drank himself to death—alcohol abuse, together with violence, addicted and intoxicated him like a deadly pandemic.
But Mama never gave up the struggle against the systems and social practices that dehumanized women and girls. She knew that, with time, she would prove girls, too, are intelligent human beings, crafted in the image of God and equally deserving of all rights. So when I look at the #GirlChildLongWalk website and watch the patriarchy “splainer” video (“Understanding Our History of Patriarchy: What’s Faith Got to Do With It?”) and listen to the intergenerational dialogue between the Girl Child and the wise woman mentor, I hear my Mama’s weary yet brave voice speaking in my heart and mind: Picture me and my life, and then, girl, picture yourself! There are four lessons I have learned from my years of real and imagined dialogues with Mama and my work in global development and peacebuilding, which, in so many ways, is inspired by her.
- Girls deserve an education that develops their intellectual capacity to live life on their own terms. that develops their intellectual and practical capacity to live life on their own terms. Education is key to economic independence and freedom. It also expands the worldviews of women and girls and opens up lifelong mentorship and learning opportunities. Mama fought to educate us, despite the social norm that there was no value in educating “other people’s wives.” Girls are not property to be given away as wives. Every girl deserves the right to an education and must be free from early or forced marriage.
- Girls deserve to be equally valued in the family. Every human being yearns to know that they matter. Mama struggled to elevate our status in a community that preferred boys and denigrated girls. Time and poverty robs girls of their rights to rest, study, or play. Girls grow tired of bearing disproportionate burdens of domestic chores or care work. Girls, too, want to inherit property and run businesses. They deserve to carry forth a family business name—like “Smith and Daughters,” or “Karen and Girls.” We must eliminate actions and inactions that communicate girls are lesser than boys. Every girl deserves the right to be respected and equally valued within the family and beyond. (Curious about where this devaluation comes from in the first place? And what faith’s got to do with it? Join the next #GirlChildLongWalk reading journey cohort to learn more).
- Girls deserve a society where women and girls are free from normalized and pervasive violence. How long can we sustain historical and systemic barriers that promote violence against women and girls and limit their safety and hopes for a better future? Mama’s love for her girls motivated her to take a longer, futuristic view that would enable us to become educated and economically independent and find secure places in the world where we could live free from violence. She helped us believe that another way was possible and that violence was not something women should just resign themselves to. But my sisters and I were the lucky ones. Too many girls today are still watching their fathers beat their mothers and accepting this as a norm. Change shouldn’t take this long. Every individual and community must urgently create and sustain nonviolent societies where women and girls are safe and able to succeed economically, politically, spiritually, and socially. The time is now.
- Girls deserve to picture themselves as free and equal. Self-awareness and self-determination are key to healthy human development. But there is a blindness that inequality and exclusion can engender through its self-perpetuating practices of normalization. Seeing and noticing how the system of patriarchy operates requires intentionality, and only after we’ve woken up to the harmful reality of this hierarchical system will we be able to formulate strategies to transform it and beat it. Mama’s favorite words were: “Picture me, and then, girl, picture yourself!” With this metaphorical language, Mama taught us to see her reality, her struggles and, through the mirror of her eyes and faith in a feminine God, see ourselves as meant for something better. Her words gave us the gift of self-awareness, agency, and self-efficacy to believe and act to change the world.
Everyone should ask difficult questions and challenge existing “truths,” myths, and perceptions of self, others, and overall spiritual and gender relations to become agents of change. If we continue to work individually and collectively to promote gender equality and the inclusion of women and girls, if we continue the struggle to eliminate the violence and human devaluation that gender inequality sustains in our families, churches, and communities, we can co-create a better world. One we don’t just have to picture but get to live and walk around and have our beings in.
Boys and men: You are some of the greatest allies that girls and women have to co-create a society where all human beings enjoy life in all its fullness.
Girls and women: Always remember that there are pictures and there are real pictures. Open your eyes so that you can see the real picture, and where possible, be that positive picture for another girl or woman in need of your mentorship or support.
Together we can do this work of transforming society until girls and women feel safe, are fully valued, and enjoy equal rights and opportunities.
Picture this! And work to make this the real picture of our world.
Dr. Jackie Ogega is the director of gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) at World Vision US, where she leads a team of technical experts in GESI integration. Dr. Ogega has over eighteen years of experience in international development and peacebuilding, focusing on gender equality, social inclusion, child protection, conflict transformation, and the empowerment of women and girls. A survivor of gender-based violence, she sees individual agency, societal resilience, and systems change as essential and achievable pathways to lasting, transformative change. Dr. Ogega has written her personal narrative in a forthcoming memoir.