We pass through a portion of the Mt Kenya forest while going to my grandparent’s home. This portion of the road is home to elephants and other wild animals, usually at the onset of darkness. On my last trip to my village, I was saddened to find a bunch of primary school girls at a bus stop in this area. The children were waving down motorists, asking for rides. The minute I stopped, they came running and yanked the car doors open. I was about to say that I could only take five of them, but reading my expression, one of them firmly stated.
“We will all fit.” They were eight of them. They did fit, some sitting on others.
“Where is your teacher? Were you on a trip? Why are you alone on a highway?” I fired a barrage of questions to which the girls looked at me like I was an alien.
“We are from school,” said one.
“Did the school bus leave you?”
“School bus? That’s only for secondary school.”
As it turned out, hiking rides was their daily routine to and from school.
“How far are you going?” They mentioned different villages and I was surprised that two of them lived close to my grandmother’s village.
“But, why are you going to such a faraway school when we have many schools close?” I mentioned two of the schools, included one that I attended in my early schooling. “How come only girls are hitch hiking?”
“Ehe! Ncoroiboro, or Njuruta they tell us, the girls, to cut our hair. Clean shave, like boys”
“They also beat us like donkeys!”
“Yes, if your hair grows an inch and you don’t shave.”
“What about neat cornrows?” I asked, thinking of how heartbroken my daughters would be if they had to clean shave.
“Not allowed. Only short hair.” One girl said and one of the younger ones added,
“Like a boy’s.”
If such statements from children do not sadden you, then I would not know what else can. These girls are facing a systematic and unchecked gender discrimination from day one of their school life. Who told teachers that a girl’s hair is a hindrance to academic performance? And if it was, why are these schools not churning out girls with A scores? Mediocrity thrives in some teachers. While our children will enter the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to join the rest of the world, our teachers are busy asking girls to shave their hair and remain uniform.
“You must not be different.” They are told, reminded to toe the line. Then years later, the government will spend copious amounts of funding to hold workshops on how girls should learn to be innovative, different.
Parents are ignorant and easily intimidated by the teachers’ mediocre attitudes. These adults would rather allow the little girls to risk their lives daily, hiking rides to avoid schools that have put in place ill-advised rules about their hair. In my teacher training, nowhere in the child psychology lessons did we have a unit about girls shaving their hair.
But we learned about a child’s identity formation during the formative years. A girl’s hair forms a huge part of her identity. For a woman, hair is her crowning glory. It should be my prerogative whether I want to shave, braid or straighten my hair. I know the men reading this are wondering why hair is even an issue, seeing as they keep one hairstyle for life. If you have daughters, please join me in demanding that these teachers leave our girls’ hair alone. Let our daughters glory in their crowns as they learn and grow. Self-love, self-identity for a girl starts from her head to the toes.
Parents, please stop shaving your daughter’s hair. A girl’s academic prowess is not tied to her hair. Enforcing shaving of our daughters’ hair is a twisted way meant to take away her identity, the uniqueness of the child. The result? The girls grow up timid. You can pay for all the tuitions in this world, but your child is getting unschooled right there in school, by a very ill-advised teacher. Your child’s outcomes in both academic and life is affected by your home situation. Is there warmth, love and care at home? Does the child see their parents demonstrating care and respect towards each other and to other people and of course to towards the child? In other news, when your wife does something drastic with her hair, for example, shaves it off, be warned.
Karimi is a wife and mother who believes marriage is worth it.