“Because- you know, it is tradition.”
Normally at Christmas we fondly think of traditions. We reflect on Grandma’s mac and cheese, candle light services, Christmas pajamas, Frosty, and mistletoe. But last week, I about had it with tradition. I was interviewing women in one of our rural village communities. The Primary Education Project is in the initial stages of starting Women’s Empowerment Groups and I’m doing some interviews to gather data.
The women circled around me like you would a lighted Christmas tree. We played charades for a while with my limited Urdu and laughed (I think) at the men, the goats, and the precious new baby in the village. Then I started asking them questions. Do you like the school? Do your daughters go to the school? Do you think it is good or bad that the girls go to school? Receiving all positive answers, I was excited! Their next answer cracked me up. How much education should girls receive? I was expecting something like elementary, middle school, high school, etc. They did a Santa-style laugh though and one of the elderly women said, “Oh I don’t know. But more than those boys!” These women got it. But my encouragement soon melted like a South Carolina snowflake.
How many of you went to school? 1, 1 out of 25.
How much education will you daughters get? Maybe 4th or 5th grade.
But, I thought you said you wanted girls to get a lot of education? Well yes, but you know- they must get married. In 4th grade they are 12 or 13, they should get married at this age.
But, then how will they go to school if they are married?
And they shrugged their shoulders and said-
They won’t, no. But it is- you know, what they must expect, it is tradition.
I would have taken down Frosty, Christmas caroling, and even stockings hung by the fireside at that moment I was so frustrated with tradition. I continued to ask questions about why they thought education was good, if they thought it changed their communities, and what they wanted for their daughters. The women could verbalize all the opportunities, knowledge, and empowerment it would bring their girls. But their hearts and minds were tangled up with the tradition of early marriage like old Christmas lights from the attic.
What will it take to keep girls in school and out of wedding dresses? What will it take to keep them in school long enough so they can learn to read the Christmas story themselves one day? Time. Time, prayer, and continuing the conversation about the importance of education. It is my hope that these Women’s Empowerment Groups will enable local female leaders to change the tradition of early marriage, get more girls in school, and help them stay there.
This year I’m starting a lot of new Pakistani Christmas traditions; I hope this 12 year old girl can experience some new traditions too. Start a new tradition with us and give to the Primary Education Project so we can keep visions of sugarplums and schools dancing in their heads.