We all remember those teachers who asked us what we want to be when we grow up. A critical moment in a child’s life because that is when we begin to build our sense of self and anticipate what we might achieve in the future. A study published by the magazine Science reveals that girls from the age of six are less prone to consider their own sex as “brilliant”. The significant inequality between men and women, gender stereotypes, and the way we educate them cause girls to limit their aspirations, to build walls in their own heads.
Nevertheless, throughout history, there have been many women who have dared to dream and have managed to open doors that seemed resolutely closed. This is the case of Concepción Arenal who, disguised as a man, was able to attend law classes in 1849 or Maria Elena Maseras, the first female student in Spain who a few years later enrolled in medical school. Around the same time, something similar happened in Chile when Eloisa Díaz became the first woman in South America to become a medical doctor and surgeon.
Throughout history, there have been many women who have dared to dream and have managed to open doors that seemed resolutely closed
These and other brave women took the first steps that would permit more women to go to university. In fact for the 1909-1910 term, there were 21 female students enrolled in university in Spain. That number rose to 2,000 in 1935. That was more than a hundred years ago, and today 60 percent of university students who graduate in Spain are women.
Education is fundamental in order to narrow the gender gap and develop female leaders; it is key to giving girls the chance to dream so they can fly with their feet still firmly on the ground. This is something that Mattel’s viral campaign “Dream Gap” talks about, it points out how important it is to see brilliant women doing brilliant things in order to inspire girls from around the world to live up to their maximum potential.
As the video explains, seeing how other women have broken stereotypes and reached their goals helps women to be able to imagine themselves doing the same. In fact, it is often someone close by – a grandmother, mother, friend – who shows the way by example. This is what Rut Pelaiza tries to do. Rut is a loan officer at the BBVA Microfinance Foundation in Peru who works training women with scant resources so that they build their small businesses and escape their vulnerable conditions. Ruth will tell her tale of achievement at the United Nations on March 13, taking another step in her courageous, intimate journey. She will explain to the the world’s key players who work on behalf of gender equality, how she believed in herself, broke dozens of stereotypes, and provided for three daughters when their father abandoned them.
This ambassador for the Foundation fights every day so that other women like her can topple the disadvantages that weigh upon their shoulders. It has been demonstrated that when they dream, women are able to make the most of the opportunities that are within reach. “With the women entrepreneurs we serve, we see that even though their loans and assets are small, they grow at much higher rates than men’s, and in the second year, four out of every ten women overcome their initial level of poverty.” points out the Head of Women’s Empowerment at the BBVAMF, Laura Fernández Lord.
Rosa Norambuena, BBVA Microfinance Foundation's entrepreneur in Chile
Financial inclusion plays a key role in making tools available to all those women who believe in a better world for themselves and their families. And because of their ability to remove the barriers that stand in the way of their goals – brick by brick – the Foundation believes they are a good investment. “Many women find themselves faced with greater obstacles when it comes to accessing formal financial services, given their lack of assets and collateral, lower levels of education, low self-esteem, and the fear of being rejected,” states the BBVAMF Managing Director, Javier M. Flores. “The Foundation wants to be there, and support them with financial products and services adapted to their needs, as well as financial education, technical training for their business, and access to support networks and contacts,” he concludes.
The strength and bravery of the women to break down barriers has been abundantly demonstrated over time, even in the face of unconscious biases that hinder their growth and progress. Education, more female role models, and access to financial services are the tools that are needed to topple the walls of gender inequality, to realize the utmost potential, the greatest dream.
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