Young Women With Potential


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Category: Women Date: 16 Aug 04


When a reputable charitable organisation recently received the promise of a million dollars from a good corporate citizen my eyes lit up.


Mind you, nobody asked me my opinion on how to spend that money but my mind took off in dizzying fantasies.


First I thought of young men. Who doesn't? All eyes are on young men. Policemen tail them; teachers watch them, parents are in despair over them. They commit the pettiest crimes and the most violent crimes, over and over. They make up the bulk of school dropouts, and create the most havoc in our society. If we can fix them, we can fix our country.


Then other images flooded into my head. Of young women. Of yearning, bright, young women bursting with potential. And I thought, it's time we thought of the young women. Before they turn into middle-aged ladies, depleted of their enthusiasm. We've got to catch them now. I've watched so many slipping through the net. I'm not talking here of CXC dropouts, not about the thousands of women who leave school without knowing how to read (and there are thousands every year adding to the mounting illiteracy amongst us).


I'm talking about young women with good O- and A-Level passes who, because of family responsibilities or lack of funding, end up with a job at the age of 17 or 18 selling shoes, tending a grocery, or doing a trainee job without prospects in a corporation. I'm talking of young women who have ideas about what they would like to do-computer programming, engineering, business, law, but who lack the opportunity. Put simply, they are too bright to do what they are now doing. In a few years' time they will be wasted potential or as companies and countries now like to put it - human resources thrown down the drain-due to neglect.


These Young Women With Potential - they are in a special category - produce marvellous graphics, are "natural'' schoolteachers, instinctively good managers and keepers of books. Imagine, with specialised training, higher education, the graphic designer could produce fully-animated films, the nursery school teacher could also be a child psychologist, the manager of a shop could be an executive of a company, the keeper of books, a full-fledged accountant. Sure there are exceptions, but there is only so far you can go with raw talent.


Now put the pieces together - absent, straying fathers throwing their young sons into the gaping mouths of drug lords, easy money, pimps, touts. Hassled single mothers worn out with holding down a job and keeping food on the table - dependent on the state to educate their children (and we all know what a lousy job the state does).


If these single mothers and the absent fathers and the wild brother and the older grandparents are lucky enough, they get a Young Woman With Potential in their family. This girl, (and I merge the conglomeration of young women I have met into this girl) is often the salvation not just of her family but her little community. This unnoticed person, who can be found behind just about any counter in this country, has the capacity to grow hands long enough to reach into the heart of communities. The Young Woman With Potential is the one the family turns to, not just for money, but for practical matters - paying taxes, filling forms for passports, helping the younger siblings with their SEA, getting granny, or great grandmother to hospital, educating her mother about diabetes. She becomes her mother's confidante and support and binds her father to the family.


I have seen these young girls over the course of four, five years burn out - without the steam of a parent or teacher with foresight to propel them to be all they can be, their potential depleted.


Today's young woman has a sense of entitlement which her mother never had - she is born into a belief system where of course she is equal, and of course she can wear tiny black dresses with the tallest, sexiest shoes and rub shoulders by day with men as a doctor, lawyer, accountant, financial consultant, anything she chooses. She is no anorexic waif waiting to be rescued like a heap of petals from the floor by a boy or man. Rather, her beauty lies in the gusto with which she lives - eating for pleasure, but with one eye on health, running strong, revelling in movement, bursting with possibility.


If I had a million dollars, or ten or 20 or even 30, I would invest it in young women. Take several hundred or thousand women from schools and interview them, suss out their abilities, look at their results and prod and cajole them into higher studies.


Educated young women will yield educated children, cared for elderly, vibrant communities, well-run businesses, dedicated professionals. They will contribute towards a prosperous and ordered country. We know young men need special attention - perhaps because often the ones that drop out haven't had fathers to guide them. They need fixing.


Young women in the Caribbean have always had strong matriarchal role models - women who bear up, take pressure. They have shown their mettle - they deserve a chance to excel, to try out the driver's seat to propel us out of illiteracy, poverty, crime. Which man with a mother, sister, wife, daughter won't agree?


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur