These Fifth Graders are the Future of Women's Equality

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Each year, as an elementary school grand finale, the fifth graders at Briarmeadow Charter School in Houston, TX work on a project called Exhibition. They identify a world issue they care about, conduct research, talk with experts, and develop a solution they believe can resolve the problem.

When teacher Hannah Bender contacted GenderAvenger about two students who chose gender equality as their topic, we jumped at the chance to speak with them, because we wanted to hear what they had to say about their chosen issue.

Clare is a ten-year-old ballet dancer who loves dogs. Ten-year-old Haya is also a dancer, but she prefers hip hop, and her family immigrated from Iran in 2014 and will become citizens of the United States in May of this year. Here’s a summary of our interview with these two incredibly mature, well spoken young women. Please note, the following has been edited for length and clarity.

What inspired you to choose women’s rights as the topic for your Exhibition project?

Clare: Reading books about women’s rights.

Haya: Women should have an equal playing field to men. I want women to make a difference in the world, but we won’t achieve that goal if we’re only including men’s perspective. Women should be in big roles, roles that are balanced in order to provide equal perspective.

Who do you admire in the gender equality space?

Clare: Clara Lemlich. She read her father’s books about being a doctor but was told she couldn’t do so because she was a girl. She did what she needed to do to fight for equality, like picketing. Also, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was told only men could be lawyers and now she’s on the Supreme Court. And Malala. Even getting shot didn’t stop her.

Haya: Emma Watson. You think she’s just an actress you know from Harry Potter, but she’s a UN Women Goodwill ambassador and is making a big difference for women of all ages.

What do you think women and men each add to a conversation? In class, do boys offer something to a conversation that provides a different perspective than girls?

Clare: Girls will work harder than boys because boys already get more, so they feel like they don’t need to work as hard.

Haya: Girls add a different perspective. They have new, good ideas that lead people into thinking about something differently. Girls teach themselves, then boys learn from what girls say.

Because women want the same opportunities as men they feel like they need to demonstrate they deserve equal pay for doing the same job, working the same hours etc. by allowing themselves to shine.

What are stereotypes you hear about women that are not true?

Haya: That girls are expected to stay home and cook and clean while men head out to work to provide for their families-- as long as they believe in themselves girls should do whatever they want.

Clare: If a woman wants to go out to work she can do that, but that doesn’t mean the man has to stay home.They can both work and provide for their family.

Oh, and that boys have blue things and girls have pink.

Ms. Bender: That is a pet peeve of mine. In my classroom there are no boy colors or girl colors.

Haya: Also, that men are supposed to wear button down shirts and women aren’t allowed to wear pants and must wear skirts or dresses. Eventually people rebelled against this by creating clothing items that women can wear every day.

What can we do now so young boys grow up gender aware?

Clare: Treat them like girls for a day so they can become empathetic to what girls are going through.

Haya: Boys should treat girls just like they treat their friends [who are boys]. Then they can come together and use both of their ideas and strive to work together. By working together they can do more. Boys should stop playing video games and do more research on the issue of gender equality.

Do you think the boys in our school and grade believe the importance of fighting for gender equality? —Miss Bender

Clare: They know it’s going on from the news or reading about it in class, but they don’t care.

Haya: We go to a diverse school and read many genres of books in class, but the boys are too scared to take action.

One question Clare and Haya had for us was if we thought we might ever lose inspiration and GenderAvenger would fold. Of course, with such insightful young women leading the way, losing inspiration seems impossible, and without knowing it, Haya explained why at the end of our conversation:

"People are still fighting for equality today, it’s not just something that happened in history. We want to empower females, and those females who are empowered will empower others, creating a cycle where more women get in on it and our world can be transformed in less than a century."