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The article “Rescuing Maasai Girls” takes an anthropological view on the subject of child marriages and explores the cultural background that provides insight on why child marriages are so prevalent in Maasai. The author, Caroline Archambault, takes a look at Esther, who the UNFPA article focused on. Archambault discussed how Esther’s father was a man who valued education and sent several of his children to school but deemed Esther as a more stay-at-home girl. Esther ran away from home in order to pursue an education and once her father saw how she exceled academically, the two reconciled. The article recoils from the notion of splitting everything into a good vs. evil showdown (in this case, Esther being the hero and her father the villain) but a lot of factors contribute to child marriages. One of the most prominent elements is the parental concern. The article briefly demonstrates how valued education is in Kenya, yet resources are in short supply, and the schools are understaffed leading to many dropouts and low success rates in higher education. Many parents are aware of this, and even though they want their educated children, they are wary of the school system’s success and rightly so. For some parents, arranging a marriage is a safer bet to securing their child’s future than putting trust into a rickety school system. Thus, the article emphasizes multiple times the importance of understanding a culture first before making assumptions.
While the first article that focused on this issue and community focused on rescuing girls from marriages and educating them, this article focuses on the importance of learning about a culture and the underlying values to understand the reasoning behind decisions made. The main problem that this article tackles is ignorance. Without trying to learn about the other viewpoints available, conclusions are formed, and biased opinions are made, therefore projecting unfair victim and perpetrator personas on people from different cultures.
The first article calls for a drastic change to be swept into Enkop and to emancipate all girls and give them the right to education. There are a few problems with this that Archambault illustrates throughout the article. First, education is not stable in Kenya. As previously mentioned, the large class sizes (some containing 100 students in a single class) make it almost impossible for a student to receive individual help from a teacher. There are not nearly enough teachers which merely fuels the problem of large class sizes. Other issues include students living far away from schools, high costs of secondary school, gender intermingling that leads to teenage pregnancies and dropouts, and difficulty in achieving high test scores to advance. Giving girls the path to education is only one step. There are several education problems that the UNFPA article doesn’t even touch. The article also neglects to look at different standpoints, the most prominent of these being the parents. The UNFPA article just assumes that all girls are faced with the same problem, have the same ruthless fathers, the same cowering mothers, and the same overall situation. Simply put, the issues with the solutions of the last article is that they are generalized.
When I read the first article, I was outraged. With the article painting villainous portraits of the fathers of Enkop, I burned with anger and desired to see those sweet girls saved and given an education. However, with the mindset that people are people and upon reading this article, my feelings were altered drastically. With the information about the struggling school system and weakened economy and job prospects, I realized that for most of these fathers, marriage was the safest bet to give their daughters a prosperous future. While some of these decisions do not play out well (portrayed by Esther who ran away), most of the parents in Kenya are in charge of the children more so than parents in the United States and these parents just want the best for their children. All parents do. But in Maasai, they have limited options and varying ways to do this. Parents are not perfect, but they try and fight their hardest to provide for their children. This article forced me to see that cultures around the world call for unique ways of providing for children.
Even upon reading this article, I cannot say that I am a fan of child marriages. The thought of marrying a 10-year-old off to someone who may be thrice her age is still appalling to me. With that said, Rescuing Maasai Girls made me think about step out of my own biased and comfortable position to think of these families who live in a world that has a fluctuating economy and education system, giving these families nothing but uncertainty. For them, marriage is the one thing that isn’t uncertain. It can surely provide stability for their daughters, a roof over their heads, a way to start a family and to create community bonds. I realize that in most cases, marriage is one of the safest routes to take. This article refrained from piling emotions onto me, the reader, as the UNFPA article did. The first article planted me firmly in the opposing viewpoint, and I was laden down with sadness and anger and the guilt because as the article pointed out if I did not oppose child marriages vehemently, I was just as bad as their fathers. But the second report used anthropological reasoning and background information and presented this in an informative matter that caused the reader to rely on information rather than emotion. And this results in a controlled and neutral reaction that allowed me to see child marriages as something manageable and convenient a parent could depend on to protect their children from a bleak future. Besides shedding light on this particular situation, the second article informs readers that before making snap judgments on practices from a culture that is different from yours, it is imperative that you understand their culture intimately to gain an understanding on why they do what they do.
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