Stereotypes—they are the strongly held perceptions that very directly affect our approach to the world. Perceptions exist in all of us. In fact, perceptions guide our approach to the world. Though, it is the negative influence of misconceived stereotypes that cloud our view of the world. Take me for example:
I am from Pakistan. I am a woman. I am Muslim.
What immediate thoughts come to mind?
You must be thinking that a Muslim girl sitting at home taking care of kids and performing domestic chores. And if you are thinking that she is in United States living independently thousands miles away from her parents, this is impossible. What do you think is this your perception or reality? I think it’s a stereotype.
Did you also know that I have seven years of work experience in the nonprofit sector with American Red Cross, Oxfam, World Vision, and now as an Atlas Corps Fellows serving for a year at CARE USA in Washington, DC? I hold a Masters in Economics and have been afforded many opportunities in my life. It is for this reason that I feel so compelled to dispel these misconceived stereotypes, especially those related to gender.
Often, issues related to women and girls are closely linked to gender stereotypes that are connected with religion. It is a self-serving misinterpretation of gender stereotypes. A ‘stereotype’ is a belief about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things. These beliefs may or may not reflect the reality. Gender stereotypes exist in every society and in every country. Let’s start from four basic gender stereotypes: personality traits, domestic behavior, occupation, and physical appearance. Let’s review these basics.
The basic “personality trait” type is that women are expected to be polite and submissive and men are supposed to be aggressive and arrogant. The basic “domestic behavior” type is that women are meant to care for the children and men should do the household repairs. The basic “occupation” type states that women will work in areas like nursing and secretarial fields while men work in construction. The basic “physical” type is that women are small and men are tall. Do any of these “types” hold true to your perception of the world?
It is simple to relate these four basics gender stereotypes to our daily life experiences, whether we live in the United States, Pakistan, or another country. These stereotypes often lead to unfair treatment of girls as compared to boys—especially in education and many walks of life. Often, boys are considered the “breadwinner” and girls are considered as the “caregiver.” This unfair treatment further limits the opportunity for women and girls advancement. Studies show that each additional year of education reduces infant mortality can be reduced from 5% to 10%. When the mothers are educated, children go to school for longer periods of time and study more. Little girls are less likely to be young brides. Still there are people living in this world needs to understand the equal rights of girls and boys. There is no difference in girls and boys and both are equal gift of God and should be treated equally. They perhaps never realized or thought that these differences can cause an unfair treatment leads to severe circumstances in girls and women’s lives.
Recently, I attended a screening of “Half the Sky”—a film based on the book written by husband and wife team Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book argues about the oppression of women across the globe. This book deals with issues affecting the well being of women and girls such as education, health, and sex trafficking. This book hit home. I am blessed to come from a family that value education, advancement, and one that is not clouded by the “stereotypes.” Their support is also why I am here for a year in the United States as an Atlas Corps Fellow. They understand the value and importance of me gaining new experience and perspective AND in sharing my story with others.
We need to mount awareness in our communities about these issues by relating it practical examples. They need to learn that if women can work in the fields all the day, they can take care of kids, they can go far away to collect water and woods; they can go for education too. Towards ending my blog, I am thinking If a girl with gleaming eyes on a banner placed at entrance of Half the Sky can take my heart away and convince me to do something for her with a ‘Silent Smile’ why not to her community then?

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