It is an unfortunate reality that even in modern times, girls have fewer opportunities than boys when it comes to receiving an education. Girls all over the world face discrimination within their cultures where they are not seen as equals to men, and therefore an emphasis on educating women is mostly absent. Barriers such as early marriage, low social status, chores and responsibilities, unsafe schools, and sanitation mean that young girls are not learning and not getting jobs to generate steady income. Without an education, they can’t educate their own children, which keep their families living in a cycle of poverty.
“If we educate a boy, we educate one person. If we educate a girl, we educate a family – and a whole nation.”
We’d like to think of this as a problem found only in impoverished countries, but the discrepancy is found in America as well. I have visited many projects that Children Incorporated is affiliated with all over the world, and girls both here in the U.S. and abroad face difficult circumstances when it comes to getting an education. From Kenya to India, to Bolivia, to Eastern Kentucky, women are less likely to be educated and more likely to live in poverty as adults than men. However, thanks to efforts made by organizations like Children Incorporated, there is hope that the achievement gap between girls and boys will close.
Children Incorporated provides basic needs to impoverished children – usually food, clothing, school supplies, and hygiene items through our sponsorship program. Beyond support from individual sponsors, we help young girls and women so they have a better chance at overcoming obstacles in their lives through skill training, job training, tutoring programs, and by building infrastructures such as dorm rooms and homes.
One of the best examples of supporting women’s education I have seen in my travels with Children Incorporated was in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Last spring, I visited Villa Emilia, a group home where a group of dedicated nuns help women and children who have been living on the streets. These families often come from hard and dangerous conditions, and the sisters who run the home help them transition and turn their lives around for the better. If it weren’t for Villa Emilia, the children who live at home would grow up uneducated and homeless. At best, the boys would eventually become laborers or field hands. The girls, however, often have no options but to take to the streets as their mothers had done – thus continuing the cycle.
When mothers and children come to Villa Emilia, they are offered a temporary home. The children attend local schools, and the women are taught garment making and given jobs in the factory, where they make their own money and are encouraged to save so they can eventually move out on their own.
Not only are the mothers taught integral life skills that they can pass down to their children, they also feel a sense of empowerment from applying their work ethic and earning their own income.
Villa Emilia also helps families to build permanence and stability. The sisters who run the home put down payments on pieces of land for the women, who then pay the mortgage on the land. Children Incorporated was able to step in and fund the building of eight houses for the women and their children so they could move into a permanent living situation.
If it weren’t for the mothers’ hard work and dedication to learning new skills, they would have never escaped poverty. These women have become role models for the girls – and the boys – of the next generation.
Photo Courtesy of New York School Talk
Last year, I visited San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico, where Children Incorporated has promoted girls education by purchasing computers for the local library, where girls and boys from local schools can come and take classes after school. This past summer, while visiting our affiliated projects in Telangana, India, I found that Children Incorporated supports mainly girls’ homes, which ensure girls from poor rural communities are given the opportunity to go to school and are encouraged to pursue higher education.
We have built dozens of dorms and schools so these homes can increase the number of girls who can attend – girls who otherwise would never be educated.
In Lages, Brazil, Children Incorporated began supporting the women of Grupo Art’Mulher, a community bakery that sells cookies, bread, pasta, and cakes. The group’s purpose is to teach business skills and a trade to local mothers. As a result, they are able to earn a steady income and provide for themselves and their families. When the program began five years ago, twenty women received instruction on how to bake and sell pastries. Since then, the program has only grown. Grupo Art’Mulher began making a name for itself at the local market, and many members of the first class ended up getting jobs in the food industry. The mothers of Grupo Art’Mulher have learned to support their families and cooking and business skills they can pass down to their own children. They’ve also earned enough to give back – a percentage of the bakery income will be donated to start music and theater courses in a building across the street from it this year.
In Kentucky, Children Incorporated’s higher education fund encourages young women to pursue college or vocational school. One former sponsored child from our program, Alesha, is now the mother of two children. She had a sponsor that supported her throughout high school and while she attended Morehead State University where she studied Education. She is now working towards becoming a speech and language pathologist. Without the support of our program and the encouragement of her sponsor, Alesha might have succumbed to the financial and emotional hardships she faced growing up in poverty with a father who struggled with a pain killer addiction.
While visiting our projects in Nairobi, Kenya, I met a young woman named Mwanaharusi who lived in the Pumwani slum, one of the largest and worst slums in the world. Between 70,000 and 100,000 people live crowded together in shacks with no water or electricity. One of our affiliate projects near the slum is St. John’s Community Center, where 200 children are taught academic subjects, along with trades like woodworking, metal work, sewing, and cooking. Mwanaharusi, who learned to sew while she was attending St. John’s, started a small business out of her home mending garments and making clothes for her neighbors. She saved enough money to buy a foot-powered sewing machine, which she demonstrated for me how it worked. It’s modest success by some standards; but in the darkest corners of the world, it’s a major victory. A girl born into poverty – in a country where girls are often not educated at all – finishes school, starts her own business and is able to support herself and her family. With every success like Mwanaharusi’s, and the other success stories we see, we move one step closer to equality for girls.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."