Investing in gender equality with education

In recent posts, we have explained the work of our Compassionate Impact Grant Beneficiary, Starfish, at the individual level. We have detailed their plans for a specialized junior high school, outlined their mentorship program, and presented their vision of providing quality education for women in Guatemala. Beyond the immediate difference Starfish is making in the lives of their Girl Pioneers, there is a bigger difference they hope to establish. Their ambitions concern the future of the entire country, placing a generation of educated women at the forefront of difference makers. Success requires that generation to make a collective impact.

Cultural change is slow. It has inertia, and it takes a push to get it moving. That’s one reason why Starfish decided to start their own junior high school, because there is a need for immediate change. Gradual systemic change is too slow for patience to be a prime strategy when it comes to education in the country with the largest gender equality gap.

But neither can systemic change be discounted, because once its inertia gets moving, it builds. By providing excellent education and leadership training to those girls with great potential, Starfish aims to create a generation of leaders that will be the push great systemic change needs. They will become community leaders, business owners, and political decision makers with the power to make lasting change and be an inspiration to the next generation. Paradigms can shift; they just need extensive movement to propel it forward.

Starfish wants to create this paradigm shift, to educate Guatemalan women who can collectively spark the cultural dynamic of gender inequality. To give Starfish’s students the creativity and resilience to challenge such an entrenched status quo, Starfish works with an international community of partners. With the expertise of organizations like Save the Children and the Trauma Resource Institute, Starfish creates conceptual tools vital for the success of cultural pioneers, and with the help of the mentor program, passes them on to the students. Some of the resulting trainings are: “Skills to develop positive relationships with and within families,” “Integrating character development in academics,” and “Techniques to enhance and develop personal resilience.” These trainings will give students the knowledge and personal strength they need to become effective leaders and role models.

To become the leaders Guatemala needs, these girls will need to become part of professions in which women are sorely lacking. Those women who have managed to attain a University degree are mostly employed in the fields of social work, education, and accounting, with little presence in the fields of medicine, law, and engineering.

Partly this disparity is due to the expense of education, but it also stems from the financial burden of young girls becoming full-time university students away from their families. As cultural norms continue to echo women as caretakers, moving out of the house while paying for a costly university degree is simply not common practice. Starfish’s Catapult Fund is intended to help remove that barrier to higher education. It is longer-term financial support intended to launch girls beyond the Starfish program and help them realize their potential as leaders in a variety of professional fields. The opportunity to do more than settle for the traditional path is just another of the many ways Starfish is working towards transformational change and gender equality in Guatemala.

For more information on FBB's partnership with Starfish, please check out our Starfish spotlight video.