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Student blog: Debating gender equality at Tonbridge School

Audrey Koti
Photo: Audrey Koti, Pestalozzi student

Tonbridge School debate night
Photo: Students from Pestalozzi and Tonbridge School after the debate

17 December 2013

From being offered to the temple to being offered an education, girls and young women around the world still struggle to achieve equality in different communities and sectors. In November 2013, a team of students from Pestalozzi joined students from Tonbridge School to debate gender equality. Audrey Koti, a second year Pestalozzi student from Zimbabwe, reports.

Participating in a debate on gender equality at Tonbridge School is an experience I would love to have again. It felt like I belonged somewhere with the eloquent debaters. As the third speaker, I had time to understand how the Tonbridge debating team presented their case. When I took the floor, I had everyone’s attention and the time was mine. My case was from three perspectives given by fellow Pestalozzi students: Zimbabwean (me), Nepali (Shuvechchha Ghimire) and Bhutanese (Dawa Zangmo).

In Zimbabwe, it is strongly held that the girl child has no need to reach great heights in education, because all she needs to know is basic home-keeping. However, the boy child has to get a good education, in order for him to acquire a good job that will sustain his family. My own mother had to take care of her younger siblings whilst her brothers were studying.

This mind-set seems to have developed from the 84 years of colonial rule. Women were only responsible for nursing their children at home during colonial rule. They were not involved in the battle against the British colonial rulers or in any menial tasks. The Zimbabwean men subjected them to homemaking and this carried on into post -independence Zimbabwe.

The case from Nepal left the audience enmeshed in the realisation of the negative effects of inequality, and I felt the case strongly myself. Deuki Pratha is a system in Hinduism in which a girl child (it is only ever the girl) is offered to the temple by her parents in return for good fortune – for example, for a good agricultural harvest, greater economic gain in the family and even for the birth of a male child.

When I say ‘offered’, I mean that young girls are given to the temple community by their parents, as a sort of gift or payment – almost the way a Christian might contribute money to a church collection in order to receive blessings. Such girls are essentially abandoned by their parents; they are deprived of parental care and are often forced to live in extreme conditions. The girls are made to do hard work like scrubbing the temple floors. They do not have any shelter so they lie on pavements along the temple walls in the cold with no food. They depend on donations given to them by worshippers. Going back home to their biological mother and father is a sin. They can only escape this if they decide to elope – and they can only elope if they actually find somewhere to go, where they can be accepted, which is rare.

I concluded my speech with the very different Bhutanese case. It seems women refrain from the administration of Bhutan. They are offered equal opportunities but due to their circumstances may be unable or unwilling to take them. In schools, the number of boys enrolled is similar to that of girls enrolled. In fact, parents will be fined if they do not send their child to school regardless of gender. However, the previous parliamentary election did not portray equality at all. While some women took up the opportunity to sit in the parliament, society was against them and they did not win the elections.

While there is inequality in Bhutan, policies against this are put into practice evidently more than in Nepal or Zimbabwe. Therefore, the Bhutanese government should continue educating people to eradicate the mind-set of inequality in them completely and equality will be implemented willingly, not just because of the laws that are enforced.

After my presenting my case, I received about five questions which I managed to answer well from my experience. However, there was one question that left me thinking: "Is lack of education in women the only reason why they are treated unequally?” This opened my mind to thinking that factors like religion and culture could have contributed in rooting the idea of gender inequality in Africa and Asia.

Find out more about Pestalozzi students’ extra-curricular activities here.

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