According to May Rihani, the disparity between boys and girls attending schools around the globe stems from various cultural factors including poverty, which forces parents to give priority to their sons when they cannot afford to send all of their children to school.
Traditional social norms run rampant, such as marrying young girls, fear for girls safety when walking long distances between homes and school, with the walk often being an hour and a half both there and back, and perhaps the most insidious reasoning, the absence of latrines.
Girls drop out once they hit puberty because there are no facilities for them.
Rihani explained this among other ideas pertaining to girls’ education and liberation in a lecture held in McKeldin Library to a small but enthusiastic crowd of about 20 Thursday night.
Rihani has worked tirelessly for girls’ education, serving as co-chair of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, conducted research and met with leaders in African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries to try to improve educational opportunities for girls.
The lecture also served to honor the life and legacy of professor Suheil Bushrui who died recently. Rihani described him as a “renaissance man” who was devoted to education and enlightenment.
He would call Rihani nearly every week to ask about her writing. What made their friendship so strong, according to Rihani, was a “deep existential belief that humans regardless of race, ethnicity or gender are equal.”
Bushrui believed that professors are vessels of enlightenment, according to Rihani.
She discussed her recent memoir Cultures Without Borders in which she details her travels and her research, including how malnutrition affects school attendance in Zaire, now the Congo. She shared a story in which a boy from a poor village bought her candy from a dusty bowl on a shelf with his only coin. She ate it, awed by his generosity, she said.
Rihani used this story to detail how stereotypes about lack of education corresponding with lack of moral or societal value are not true.
“We have no right whatsoever to judge anybody based on color, based on religion, based on poverty,” Rihani said.
She spoke passionately about the necessity of crushing stereotypes and breaking down boundaries.
Schools around the globe today, she said, value followers, not independent thinkers. Through her research, she has realized that they value blind obedience and emphasize that women have no role in the public sphere.
“Our journey is not complete until we believe that every hungry child and every illiterate girl and boy are our children and our responsibility and the other is only a reflection of ourselves.”
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Raye Weigel is a sophomore multiplatform journalism and English major and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.