When I was born, my mother noted down the date in my baby book: “1975. International Women’s Year”. One of the first things she taught me was why do we celebrate International Women’s Day. I had the obligation to write a post today.
My mother has told me on many occasions about my first day at school. I was three years old. We had spent the summer in the village or, as she described it, “you had been running loose in the fields for three months” (it seems I was the dog). She had planned for me to start at the nursery the day after we returned to the city, but I insisted on going that very morning. On our way, my mum was worried. I was a single child and we had never been apart. She thought I would cry and refuse to stay without her. Instead, when we arrived, I happily greeted the teacher and asked her if she liked my bag. Then, I turned to my mum and said:
“You can leave now.”
It was her who left crying. However, she had only herself to blame. She had always told me that studying should be my main priority. As our family was not rich, an education was the only legacy they could leave me. She said that having an education was a passport to be free and independent:
“The more you know, the less they will be able to oppress you”
This happened almost forty years ago. Unfortunately, still too many children in the world will never experience a first day at school. In many cases, the reason will be that they are girls. I do not have to look very far. In my mother’s time, education was a privilege for many Spanish children (especially at villages). University was extremely expensive and boys were given preference over girls.
“Girls will get married. They do not need to study”, people used to say, as if both things were mutually exclusive.
If a girl was so lucky to go to university, people assumed she was there to look for a husband. Just a generation later, with the arrival of democracy, things changed supersonically (my mother’s words). In my time, all Spanish children compulsory attended school, university was (relatively) cheap and there were an equal proportion of boys and girls. Even better, nobody thought that boys should have preference any more.
Unfortunately, not all parts of the world have experienced this supersonic change. We keep hearing news about countries in which girls’ education is not valued, in which fanatics use threats and violence to prevent girls from attending school. Just last month, brave Malala Yousafzai (who survived this type of violence) reminded us that three hundred girls have been missing for a year in Nigeria, kidnapped by fanatics because they wanted to sit their Chemistry exams. I remember the day it happened. I was in the middle of the celebrations after having obtained my PhD. I wondered what my life would have been like had I been denied a chance and subjected to such violence. My mother, who never loses hope, who has always been a fighter, told me:
“Who knows? Maybe you would be the leader of the women’s liberation movement.”
Today, 8th March, International Women’s Day, I wish to celebrate those women (and future women) who never give up. I wish to celebrate you, mum.