Welcome to Girl Museum’s 10th Anniversary year. We have many exciting projects for our community, including this new blog series, Why We Need Girls’ Studies. Each month we will feature an interview with a scholar in the field to get insights about what we are all doing in this space to further our understanding of girlhood and its experiences.
Our fifth interview is with Dr. Relebohile Moletsane is Professor in the School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa.
Let’s begin with defining our terms, especially since Girls’ Studies is a relatively new academic area. Can you tell our readers what your field of expertise is and how you see it within Girls’ Studies?
I am trained in the broad field of education, and have a special interest in the girls education and the barriers and enablers to it. Specifically, I am interested in the qualitative experiences of girls (and young women) in and around educational institutions and how these enable or inhibit girls’ access and success in education.
Why do you think we need Girl Studies?
Often, girls’ issues are either ignored or handled superficially in educational institutions and other social institutions in society, including the family. For example, while menstruation, and in particular, menarche is a significant stage in a girl’s life, the family and the school often treat it as shameful and private, and therefore, as something girls ought to endure privately. There are other examples, what is common among them is how they are viewed and how girls are treated as a result.
There are vast disparities globally in girls’ situations, with incremental improvements in some areas and serious steps backwards in others. From your work in Girls’ Studies, what are some positives you take away from the academic interest in girls and girlhood? What changes can it lead to?
In my country, for example, there is renewed interest in girls’ education and the strategies and resources needed to support girls in and around the education system. In communities, many issues which in the past were silenced, are now in the public domain (e.g., abductions, trafficking and early and forced marriages).
What are the biggest challenges now and going forward for Girls Studies in an academic world? Do you see Girls’ Studies programs being a reality?
There is some reluctance in recognising Girls Studies as a field of study. This means that resources for advancing the field are not forthcoming, including research grants, program funds, etc. But with the increase in the number of scholars now focusing on this area and the publications that are emerging, I am hopeful that we can turn this around.
We have an ongoing research question we ask everyone we interview: Do you think the Internet is a safe place for girls and why?
Yes and No. Yes, because girls who are often silenced find this a space in which they can freely communicate. However, this also exposes them to predators and cyberbullies.
Dr. Relebohile Moletsane is Professor in the School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. Her areas of research include rural education, sexual and reproductive health education, and girlhood studies. She is the Co-PI (with Dr. Claudia Mitchell, McGill University) on the Networks for Networks for Change and Wellbeing: Girl-led ‘From the Ground Up’ Policy-making to Address Sexual Violence in Canada and South Africa.(www.networks4change.co.za/). She is the co-editor (with Dr. Claudia Mitchell) of the 2018 book: Disrupting Shameful Legacies: Girls and Young Women Speak Back Through the Arts to Address Sexual Violence (Rotterdam: Brill/Sense Publishers).
Thank you to Dr. Moletsane for participating in our conversation. Join us next month for another interview of a Girlhood Studies scholar, Dr. Kristine Alexander, Professor of History at University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
Thanks for reading!
-Ashley E. Remer
Girl Museum Inc.