My grandmother’s model of teaching young African girls

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community education

screenshot_2017-01-08-11-09-19-2In an article about African cultural practices versus abuse/dehumanisation of women I spoke against the elderly women within the clans encouraging the younger generation of females as young as eight to be sexual objects for men. Generally, I felt that women should not be the ones to advocate for practices that are damaging to the good fortune, emancipation and well-being of other women by encouraging certain practices. I had the opinion that African women needed to be encouraged to think deeply about the message the older paternal aunts and community elders send across when they advise and teach young girls to prepare their bodies for marriage; And to think about the potential perils of training young girls to tolerate and put up with domestic abuse by emphasizing that a woman must be subservient to their husband otherwise, if not she is a shame that will bring scandal to her family. Not to dismiss culture, but I felt that the same amount of emphasis could be placed encouraging young girls to persevere with obtaining an academic education.

My Grandmother kept coming to my mind as I reflected on this. As an elder in her community and a paternal aunt to some, she was very different to the elders that I have criticised. I have often in the past been critical of bible teaching because I come from a country with a colonial past with Britain. Biblical teaching was used to get an upper hand at the expense of my people and the country; however; in this instance, I reflected upon how my grandmother used biblical teaching to as a tool to educate young girls and prepare them well for the future, as opposed to how other community elders prepared girls for marriage.

My grandmother held a leadership role in church long before she was married. She started off as a member in the Methodist church as an auxiliary leader for the YWA (Young Women Association) in what was then known as Salisbury, Rhodesia. The aims of this group could be interrelated to what the Girls Brigade or Girl Guides Association do today.  The idea was to equip and prepare young girls on how to transit into adulthood. My grandmother shadowed older women who were once members of the YWA but graduated to another group for married women and mothers, tapping into these older women’s past experiences to promote independence, how to deal with issues of abstinence, and how to transit positively into adulthood and to marriage. This was a very important role to play in the church and the issues were also very important in bringing guidance in the lives of young girls. The issues that the girls were taught were in line with Bible teaching and also prepared the girls to adapt to different values and as well as a different way of life that was outside of culture.

Even in the church the girls were taught the importance of maintaining a good name for themselves and their family. The platform led by my grandmother in the church promoted awareness of the menaces of life and how they could avert the risks to those menaces, they were taught that disobedience led many to suffer resentment amongst friends, family and the community in which they lived. The reward for the awareness bred humility, the fear of the Lord, honour and dignity in life.

Throughout the workshops of YWA, the young girls learnt to identify the thorns and snares of life and of their ways and brought awareness of identifying members of the opposite sex who would try to deceive them into having premarital sex, which would then hinder positive progression into marriage or education. This wing of the church was an extension of “Training and modelling young women for their future” and was successful because its outcomes included high achievers in educational establishments, less teenage pregnancy, less unemployment and women with higher moral standards.

When my grandmother exited from her role within the YMA she got married and joined the older women that she once shadowed. She was later successfully elected to become the Chairperson of Women in United Churches in the southern region of Africa, a role which she held from the late 1960s until she died in 1977.  Being a leader from an early stage of her life taught my grandmother so many attributes of life. Most of these attributes she acquired from what she learnt from the Bible as she needed to be exemplary. She was humble, but with an exuberant character that was ever present in her preaching, singing and in almost everything that she did. She was an exemplary helper to my grandfather who although having a good job as a medical assistant, was getting a meagre salary due to racism and oppression, but my grandmother subsidised through selling fruit and vegetables at a market stall.

In my opinion this model of educating young women to be good women, supersedes that of the paternal aunts which encourages practices that are disadvantageous in the long term. My Grandmother herself and the work she did in the church was the perfect model of how young girls can be educated to become functioning and independent adult women as well as wives.

 

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