Phyllis Galembo, Mami Wata Mask, Cross River, Nigeria, 2004
It’s Mothers’ Day so put the daffodils down and bear with me.
I’m a third generation teacher. My grandmother was born in 1901in a shipbuilding settlement called Bill Quay on the south bank of the Tyne. Her father was a foreman in the shipyard and her mother a domestic servant. She was a clever child and passed the test for the Grammar School in Jarrow. She went by train for the interview to clinch the place and the headmaster asked her its number. She knew he wouldn’t know, so she made it up. Whether that got her the place, she never said. She became a pupil teacher and then a certified one, earning her own living up to the end of the 1920s. Married women couldn’t teach so, despite her husband being in the Merchant Navy she had to stop, describing herself in later years as ‘vexed’. When the second war came, and teachers were in short supply, she was implored to return to the classroom. She refused. Not a woman to be toyed with.
My own mother was well educated and her father hoped that she’d go to university in 1951. She chose to go south to the City of Leeds Training College and did a two-year teaching certificate.
I did go to university, though my grandfather didn’t live to see it. I came to London and then did a PCGE at Birmingham. I’ve taught all over the place and picked up qualifications at two more universities. I chose not to work when my children were tiny and was a Head by 40. No-one has ever shown the slightest interest in whether I was married or not, though colleagues did buy me a nice set of pans when I did.
My own daughter shows no signs of going into the family business. Educated to within an inch of her life at an excellent comprehensive school, she took university in her stride. Like her grandmother and great-grandmother she knows a thing or two about life and is not a woman to tangle with. Prosperity or austerity – what could get in her way?
Having an educated mother is a pretty good start in life for any child. UNESCO knows that having a mother with secondary or higher education halves child mortality. The World Bank recognises that educating girls to secondary level is a clear indicator of prosperity and stability. Yet simple things prevent it. While Malala’s story is a crystal-clear shocker of bigotry and brutality education remains impossible for millions of girls for cruder reasons. Even in places where governments have strained every sinew to provide education, girls stop going to school once they start menstruating because there are no toilets, no privacy and no running water. Some girls don’t get educated because their world is against them, but some don’t get educated because there are no sanitary towels and no doors on the loos. Half of the girls who drop out of school in Africa do so because there are no proper toilets.
So have a look at the Toilet Twinning website, and if you haven’t bought your Mum anything for Mothers’ Day, put a toilet in your basket. My mother and grandmother had some things to overcome in their time, but nothing as outrageously basic as this. Let’s spend a penny or two and give other women the chances our mothers fought for.