Over the past few weeks, NPR has featured the stories of 15-year-old girls all over the globe as part of our #15Girls series. These young women are pushing back against parental expectations, cultural norms and economic hardship and taking charge of their future.
Many of you told us you were surprised and inspired by these stories. And lots of you wanted to know more. Below, we’ve asked our reporters to answer some of your queries.
Some of the greatest soccer players, and some of the most fervent soccer fans, come from Brazil. But in the country that famously loves soccer, women and girls who play are stigmatized and ostracized. We reported on a group of girls who don’t let any of that keep them off the field.
Q: Brazil’s women’s team performed really well at the Olympics and at the World Cup. Plus, they’ve won the Pan American Games three out of the four times they participated. Isn’t this stigma for girls exaggerated?
Not really. Yes, Brazil’s woman’s soccer team did a great job at the Women’s World Cup. Still, we had trouble finding any bars that were showing the women’s matches on TV. But the whole country came to a standstill whenever the men’s national team was playing in the World Cup.
One of the world’s best soccer players is a Brazilian woman named Marta Vieira da Silva. In fact, she’s won the “World Player of the Year” title five times. But as The Atlantic‘s recent profile of her points out, even Marta has trouble finding work as a professional soccer player.
Q: Is this a problem in other Latin American countries?
As we mentioned in the article, Brazil has a history of seeing women’s soccer as distinctly unfeminine. Also, women’s soccer was banned in Brazil for decades, so there is a hangover from that. Gender stereotyping and limits on women are widespread across Latin America (and let’s face it, all over the world). What makes Brazil unique is that soccer really is a national sport. Men and women love it — but only one gender really gets to play it.
— Peter Breslow and Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
We profiled two teen girls living in Nepal. Kamala, who lives in a rural village, has to sleep in an outdoor shed while she has her period. Prakriti, who lives in the capital city of Kathmandu, wants to change cultural attitudes about menstruation. She’s even penning a book about a society where menstruation gives women superpowers. The piece inspired hundreds of questions and comments.
Q: Where can we get Prakriti’s book?
Unfortunately Prakriti’s novel, Imposter, is not available — at least not yet. Prakriti says she still has a lot of editing to do on it. As she is busy studying for exams in April she doesn’t have time to work on it right now. After that, she says, “I intend to devote myself fully to it and hopefully get it published in the next two years.”
Q: Does this taboo only apply to unmarried girls and women?
When we visited the sheds at night we found mostly teenage girls. We did find a couple of married women sleeping there, but they were young. One was 17 and the other was 23. The woman we stayed with in the village, Kamala Bhandari, says she never sleeps in a shed. She told us that it’s much more common for unmarried girls and that married women are giving up the practice.
— Jane Greenhalgh and Michaeleen Doucleff
Our profile of Nimmu, a 15-year-old in India who has been married since she was 10, drew lots and lots of questions. We ran some queries by Ravi Verma, a New Delhi-based researcher at the International Center for Research on Women, a global research institute and advocacy group.
Q: Why is child marriage considered acceptable by so many parents in India? Is this rooted in religion or in India’s caste system?
Verma says child marriage in India is fundamentally a cultural practice. Religion is not what’s driving it, and neither is the caste system. But he says both can play an indirect role.
Many Hindu and Muslim communities in India emphasize the woman’s role as a wife and mother. And good wives are often expected to be sexually pure before marriage.
Even the hint that a girl has had sex with a man — willingly or unwillingly — could render her unmarriageable. In this context, parents may decide the best strategy is to marry off a daughter as soon as possible, even while she’s still a child.
Similarly, India’s caste system can indirectly affect child marriage, Verma says. The practice is more prevalent among economically marginalized and socially excluded castes, whose members tend to be among India’s most impoverished. Girls in these communities often lack the opportunity to get an education beyond primary school, let alone a paying job. As a result, there’s less incentive for parents to delay a daughter’s marriage. Once she moves in with the in-laws, there will be one less mouth to feed.
Q: Is child marriage really that common in India?
India is huge and diverse.
It’s important to understand that a large segment of middle-class women in India enjoys prosperity and independence on par with its middle-class counterparts in wealthy countries like the U.S.
Child marriage, however, is still common in certain communities.
How common? A 2008 government survey found that 47 percent of women in their early 20s had been married before age 18. And 18 percent of them were married by age 15.
For this sort of study, researchers check their data against legal records and other sources. And the 2008 survey data are what UNICEF cites in its roundup of world statistics on child marriage. India’s latest census found a much lower child marriage rate. But Verma says these figures need further analysis. For one thing, child marriage is illegal in India, so families have reason to lie about the age of their married daughters.
Still, there is evidence that child marriage is on the decline, Verma says. Data from a more recent national survey should be out within the next year or so.
Q: Are girls who are married as children generally wed to older men or are the grooms also underage?
Boys are less likely than girls to be married off as children, Verma says. But there are many underage grooms — and child marriage clearly violates the rights of both boys and girls.
But child marriage isn’t likely to derail a boy’s life the way it can for a girl. A girl bride is often expected to drop out of school and move in with her husband and his family. From that point on, says Verma, “she’s at the service of the family,” expected to obediently do whatever housework and other chores the household requests.
Generally, underage grooms can continue with their studies or pursue jobs, Verma notes. And sometimes, Verma says, a boy may gain freedom after marriage, “because now he has a girl at home helping to look after his parents.”
— Nurith Aizenman and Vikki Valentine
In Zambia, most school kids, especially girls, don’t make it past the 10th grade because their families can’t afford tuition. So a bunch of professors at Harvard Business School wondered — what if the girls could learn techniques of negotiationthat are usually taught to future M.B.A.s? Would they stay in school longer? We profiled one girl in the ongoing research program. Listeners wanted to know more, and of course, we’ve obliged.
Q: Do Zambian schoolboys get to go to school free?
No. Zambian boys have to pay school fees just like girls do. There certainly is favoritism toward boys, but it’s often not as simple as parents paying a son’s fees instead of their daughter’s. Rather, girls may be expected to juggle housework, child care and cooking along with finding time to study. Boys don’t have the same conflicts. So it’s not that parents expected less of girls; it’s that they demanded more of them.
Some listeners echoed the same misconception we had ourselves when we started reporting this piece: that families would favor boys when funds were low. A boy may have to drop out because his family doesn’t have funds, just like a girl would.
Kotutu Walubita, an NPR listener and Zambian-born woman, helped explain: “I was always encouraged to be a leader and pursue the highest form of education possible, same with all of the women in my family. I have brothers as well, and they are no more encouraged than I am. I’m the first-born and I get more pressure from that, rather than about my gender.”