POSTED November 27, 2023
Why it’s important to send 100 girls to school for a year on #GivingTuesday?
What can Barbie teach us about girls’ education? Children Believe addresses systemic barriers through learning
This summer entertainment news was awash in pink as Barbie hit screens worldwide. The movie invited explorations of gendered relations of power that hit close to home for Children Believe.
Since Mattel released the iconic doll in 1959, Barbie and dolls like it have been a constant feature in toy boxes globally. While she had no backstory then, she was well known for her slim body, blue eyes and blonde hair. Partly because of this blank slate, children could imagine who the doll was to them, her life and activities, although it was always harder for girls who did not look like Barbie to share fully in that experience. Over the years, Mattel released new versions to better reflect racial and ethnic diversity, evolving social norms and roles of women in the workplace, from the farm to the operating room. From this fluffy world, movie director Greta Gerwig’s interpretation explored the serious issue of patriarchy and gender discrimination against women and girls. So, what can be learned from Barbie’s adventures in Barbie Land and the real world, when it comes to girls’ education?
The real world represented in the film shows patriarchy from a narrow lens of male-female relations.
Left out are the complex, intersecting relationships and barriers that women and girls from diverse backgrounds experience daily, based on race, class, ethnicity, caste, abilities and other forms of difference.
While Barbie the film was never intended to be a sociological study, it allows us the opportunity to think about the linkages between education and gender – an issue of primary concern for Children Believe. Take, for example, Ghana. Here, our Centre of Excellence research and advocacy focuses on early childhood education for girls and boys to support girls’ learning outcomes from the start. Providing early childhood education to disadvantaged children increases the likelihood that they will complete more years of schooling. Then there is Ethiopia, where we enable girls displaced by armed conflict in the Amhara region to resume education and reduce the risk of later dropout. In Nicaragua, Children Believe provides youth with training in entrepreneurial skills and business practices to enable women to exercise greater financial independence. Achieving gender equality in education is part of the intergenerational struggle for women’s rights, which includes removing other systemic barriers to health care, credit, labour markets, equal pay, and protection under the law.
In supporting our local partners, women’s groups and expanding girls’ access to education, Children Believe challenges barriers to educational access, academic learning, and employment in tangible and measurable ways. Our work seeks to enable women and girls to exercise their agency, release their imagination, and take ownership of their lives and decisions.
First, we embody social values of gender equity and protect the right to education for girls and boys, engaging both women and men, girls and boys. Second, we model action by removing or mitigating barriers to education with infrastructure building, teacher training, learning materials and raising awareness among parents and communities. By doing so, we reduce the social and economic harms that result from gender disparities, including child marriage, poor health outcomes and low income. Third, we provide a platform for women and girls to share their lived experiences and for readers to reflect on our collective responsibilities that come with a shared humanity. Fourth, we choose to love. As the Black feminist scholar and activist bell hooks writes, “There can be no love without justice…abuse and neglect negate love. Care and affirmation, the opposite of abuse and humiliation, are the foundation of love.”
In our latest edition of ChildVoice, we explore girls’ education and its positive impacts, through stories. In reality, there is no escape to a mythical Barbie Land. But in the ongoing and reversible struggle for gender equality, addressing conflict—and climate-induced displacement and migration, child labour, and human trafficking, education is both a shield and a gateway to address systemic barriers for women and girls everywhere.
ABOUT CHILDREN BELIEVE:
Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60+ years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.
About ChildFund Alliance:
A member of ChildFund Alliance, Children Believe is part of a global network of child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23-million children and their families in 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.