What do you find when you open a box of secrets? Especially those labeled taboo?
Co-written by Betty Kazadi Musau and Neelley Hicks
Rev. Dr. Betty Kazadi Musau recently spent time in Kamina, Democratic Republic of the Congo where she broke silence with women and girls on the subject of sexual harassment, rape and stigma. What she learned surprised her.
Sexually Transmitted Grades
Within the local school, a new catchphrase is popular: sexually transmitted grades. As young girls enter school, they learn quickly that the way to pass is to provide sexual favors to teachers who may otherwise fail them.
A group of school girls shared their own experiences.
Most of the teachers are married, but many flirt with the girls at school. When girls do not pass quizzes with their own intelligence, the teachers exchange passing grades for sex.
This particularly impacts girls from poor families who may not have the parental support and guidance needed to counteract behaviors that have become normalized in school. Pregnancies sometimes come out of these relationships, putting the future of the girls and their children at risk. Pregnancy often ends the educational prospects for girls, reducing their professional prospects to selling seasonal fruits and produce. Due to poverty in the region, most parents simply cannot afford to care for these single mothers and the offspring.
The power dynamic between the teacher and student makes reporting very difficult. Students do not know their rights nor how to exercise them without bringing about further harm. Powerlessness is the issue that creates a breeding ground for silence.
Add to that, these girls live in situations where no one has told them about their inherent worthiness, dignity and integrity.
As I listened to many girls, I observed that gender rights are taught at university, not at home or in the church. Before girls reach that level, they remain silent about sexual harassment in school. Sexual abuse is kept quiet and hidden in darkness. Young girls need safe space to open their hearts and mouths. This can aid in their own healing processes and result in reform for schools. Since education for girls has a low priority in the family, support among women will help enhance one another.
A local church leader expressed hope for mobilizing women about their rights, even using the pulpit to do so. Speaking with biblical and social background can help promote integrity of girls and women in the community. It is just to speak from a religious perspective, when misinterpretation of scriptures so often has led to the subjugation of women worldwide.
Opening a box of secrets can be scary when leaders don’t know what to do with the truth of harmful activities going on right under their noses. It is only when we admit that we have been blind – whether intentionally or unconsciously – that true change can happen. The pain of revealing secrets is worthwhile, when it leads to a new order and better lives.
Become a sponsor of communications for change. Support the Women Arise Collective.