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The first 10 years: 9 girls lives from around the world

It’s not fair that I have to do all the chores

Hillary, El Salvador

Hillary is opposed to the gendered division of labour that she sees in her home. She’s responsible for a number of chores including cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for her younger siblings and says: “It’s not fair, because I do more than my brother. I told my mother but she didn’t say anything about it.” 

Hillary doesn’t like not being allowed to help with the tasks that her brother is given: “The males can go bring firewood and not the girls, the males look for it and we can’t look for it because an animal could bite us. My brother and my dad go get firewood. I feel bad because we can’t do it. I get sad, I start crying.”

She’s also opposed to her movement being limited because she's a girl. She says that she has to ask permission to leave the house and will be punished if she doesn’t.

My role is to stay in the kitchen

Annabelle, Benin

Annabelle’s mother works as a trader and earns three times the amount her husband does as a motorbike taxi driver. She says ““In the past, girls didn’t go to school. Marriage was forced and children helped their parents in the fields. The opportunities nowadays are that girls go to school and can choose their husband.” 

In spite of this, roles in their household are gendered, the women undertake the chores and the father makes financial decisions alone. Annabelle says that “Boys are allowed to wash the car with daddy but I’m not allowed to. My father says that I’m a little girl and my role is to stay in the kitchen… This makes me feel sad.”

At school, Annabelle says “I hate playing with the boys because of the prejudices. For example, when your friends see you with boys, they start saying that you’re their girlfriend. I am only friends with girls because I am a girl.”

I’m told if I don’t do housework my future husband will hit me

Thearika, Cambodia

Thearika’s mother is illiterate. She never went to school and, because she was the eldest daughter, from the age of nine she was responsible for taking care of her siblings and helping her mother with the household chores. All of her other siblings are able to read and write - not going to school is something she really regrets. She has worked hard to ensure her daughter has the education and aspirations she didn’t. Thearika says “I like going to school because I want to study, and I want to be a translator like my aunt.”

When asked what girls can do, Thearika says “Girls can do whatever, but they have to wash dishes and cook rice.” She goes on to say “My mother tells me that if I cannot do housework, my husband will knock on me after I get married.”

I’m told that men do not like old maids

Azia, Togo

Azia’s mother has been preparing her for her role as an adult for a number of years, she says: “We teach her to wash dishes and sweep as a preparation for the future.” And that “I would like her to go as far as possible in her studies before getting married. She must also finish early in order to have a good husband because men do not like old maids.”

On the day of her interview, Azia listed the tasks that she did before going to school: “I washed the dishes, swept the house yard, drew water, bought the porridge we took together in the morning and then I got ready.” She says that “I work more at home and I amuse myself less than the boys.”

Like many of the girls in the cohort study she seems to have accepted her role and says “I like to do everything at home.” 

If I have a boyfriend he may hit me

Patrícia, Brazil

Patrícia attends a private school and has been told by her teacher to “always keep studying” and to not start dating too early. When asked why a girl shouldn’t date, Patrícia says that “Her boyfriend might hit her and do many bad things to her…He might yell at her, hit her when she’s pregnant and many other things.” 

Patrícia doesn’t like the inequality that she sees in her own home, she says “I think men and women can do the same activities in the same way. My dad doesn’t help my mother. I think my father could help my mother.” She says that to have a good future a woman needs “A good man” and that for her to have a good future she needs “A good education”.

I live with my grandparents

Tien, Vietnam

Like a number of the girls in the study, Tien is cared for by her grandparents - her father passed away and her mother migrated to Ho Chi Minh to find work to support the family. Migrating has meant that she is able to send money for Tien’s education, but she’s only able to return home once a year. 

Tien’s grandfather expresses his concern about their situation: “I am old and weak now. If I become sick in the future and I am not able to take care of her anymore, I don’t know who will. Her mother is a single mum and works far from home. She stays at home with us, so if we are ill, nobody will take care of her.”

Progressing well at school and protected from these difficulties, Tien says that when she’s older: “I want to become an artist to draw fields and work at where I live. I want to live with my mother and my grandparents. I want to have a house, a bike, a cat and clothes. I want to learn dancing. I want to become a mother because my mother gave a birth to me and gave me schooling.”

My mum works hard to ensure I get the best education

Justine, Uganda

Justine’s mother had no formal education – but she and her husband are extremely committed to ensuring their children receive the best possible start in life. Justine is the youngest of nine, all of whom have attended school, two of her eldest siblings have already completed university. Justine wants to be a nurse and says that science is her favourite subject at school. 

Unhappy with the quality of the state education the family have begun paying for private schooling. In order to pay for this, as well as farming and animal rearing, Justine’s mother sells petrol and milk by the side of the road: “[Justine] says she wants to be a nurse, so it’s what I want to fulfil for her… I have many personal businesses of selling fuel so I will just have to work hard.” Despite her hard work outside the home, it is Justine’s mother, and her daughters, who do all the domestic work. 

Despite her ability to plan, save and increase the family income, it seems that Justine’s mother is not involved in important economic decisions: “Here in my house, it’s my husband who decides... if [the money] is [from] my produce, we sit and discuss, but if it is his, I have no powers – he makes his decisions.” Justine’s mother thinks that girls should not be excluded from inheritance, that they too need assets. 

Many girls get married at 12

Valerie, Dominican Republic

Many of the cohort families are dependent on the weather for their food and livelihood. Valerie’s mother says that this year a drought has severely affected them and that: “Nothing, nothing has grown here this year. Nothing, nothing. We planted beans, that’s what we grow here. Beans, pigeon peas, and pumpkin and corn. And we couldn’t pick anything because the drought was so bad. 90 per cent was lost of the products that were planted.” She continues that “it’s the children who have a hard time” as a result.

The family’s poverty, exacerbated by the increasingly unpredictable climate, means that when Valerie reaches grade 6 she has to leave school. 

Valerie’s life already seems to revolve around chores. When asked what she likes to do at school she says “Study, sweep, wash up, clean the tables and chairs.” And when asked if she plays at her aunt’s house she says “Yes, to wash up, sweep, mop.” Without school these chores may form an ever greater part of Valerie’s life. Her parents acknowledge that in their community girls are expected to grow up quickly and that “many girls get married at 12, at 13 and that sort of thing”.

Boys and girls must be equal

Reyna, Philippines

Reyna is one of seven children, six of whom are girls. Her eldest sister is 23 and is a domestic worker in Qatar, her young child lives with Reyna’s parents. When she left: “It was a bad feeling, because all of us worry what might happen to her there. She and her child didn’t say goodbye, because she said she might miss the child more if they did.” However they also report that their happiest time was when she first sent money home and they were able to eat meat.

Reyna’s mother laughed when she spoke about her own knowledge of contraception: “I learned about that from the clinic. But when we talked about those things, it was too late. I already had seven children.”

Reyna’s father says that he helps around the home: “I can do the tasks of a woman.” When asked about whether boys and girls should own property the parents agree that “They must be equal.”

Reyna hopes to be a teacher but she is badly bullied and is progressing slowly, her mother says “It’s better now, because she is able to read, compared to last year.” Her parents work hard to support their children’s education but one of their daughters couldn’t continue: “We made her stop because we can’t afford it.” Reyna misses school sometimes because of illnesses and sometimes because there isn’t a teacher: “Somehow. It’s the teacher who’s often not around. Sometimes, they don’t have class for 1 week.” Reyna says “I want my family to be happy.” And to do this she’ll “send money to my mom, so she could pay our debts.”

Real Choices, Real Lives: Ten Years On