Females flying solo: A guide to empowerment

“66% of fourth grade girls say they like science and math. But only 18% of all college engineering majors are female.”

Verizon’s 2014 commercial raises some very good points. Women in America are victims of extreme gender stereotyping and it largely affects the choices we make later in life – including whether or not to travel.

Culturally, women are treated as precious snowflakes; sweet, delicate, and disastrously ill equipped to contend with the meatier struggles of life.

Whether a woman is walking on to a used car lot, pursuing an engineering degree, or planning a trek across southeastern Columbia, the reaction is always the same:

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

An article on Forbes.com tracked the public outcry prompted by the death of a 33-year-old woman traveling in Turkey:

  • “A single woman traveling alone is risky. In a foreign country, it is downright foolish.”
  • “A woman has no business traveling alone.”
  • “No WAY I would even let my beautiful wife out the door to travel to any country alone.”

It’s a sad fact that things like this happen, but bottling women up is not the answer. Terrible things are likely to happen anywhere, even at home. According to the FBI, 80% of violent crime victims know their attackers personally.

When I was a child, one of my classmates bragged about an amazing weekend in NYC. Inspired, I went home and asked my mother if she could take me the following weekend.

She let out a small sigh and said, “Your father is busy, but maybe some other weekend.”

“But why can’t we go just the two of us?” I asked.

“It’s much too dangerous for us to travel to a big city like New York on our own,” she said.

This is the viewpoint that many of my friends and I grew up with; an opinion still institutionalized within my home community.

Every day, concerned friends furrow their brows and ask my mother how on earth she can cope with me living in rural Guatemala.

I am lucky to have so many amazing people in my life who care. But in a more perfect world, people would have confidence in my pursuits and not see every travel excursion as an opportunity for the real-life enactment of Little Red Riding Hood.

Recently, Ohio State’s Women in Engineering (WIE) has taken amazing strides in combating these restrictive stereotypes.

After hearing of the extremely low ranking Guatemala received on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index, the group is preparing to launch an annual woman-centered engineering expedition in conjunction with NGO Mayan Families.

For three months each summer, students will travel to Guatemala to utilize special engineering strategies to empower women and deliver long-term industrial solutions.

The project will give female students the opportunity to travel, experience a new culture, and contend with gender inequality issues both at home and abroad.

At just 18 years old, electrical and computer engineering major Mary Scherer is the pilot representative for the initiative, gathering all the information to approve funding for the trip while pioneering the educational practices that future students will employ.

She’s optimistic that the program will not only benefit the indigenous communities, but will also stand as a champion initiative for equal rights and the empowerment of women everywhere:

“Experiencing volcanic hikes, flooding rains, and an earthquake after only three weeks in Guatemala, I have realized that the world is constantly changing. But while teaching here in Panajachel, I have also realized that as a woman in engineering, I too am changing the world.”

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