Across urban and rural communities in eight countries, 800 girls and boys between the ages of 11 and 17 talked about their everyday life, their use of time, their aspirations and hopes for the future, and what it means to be a girl or a boy today.
Aware of the demands and opportunities of today’s world, boys and girls deeply value education and aspire to good jobs.
“School is very important, I see my big brothers who are civil servants and I want to be like them” (young man, Burkina Faso). “Education lets us join the modern world, and offers us better jobs now; in the past it was not important since our people were farmers and were not paying attention to their future or look[ing] to change their present” (young man, North Sudan). “Brighter future, less hard work than being farmers, better economic life” (young man, Vietnam). “Complete education up to university to get a job, then become an educated mother” (young woman, North Sudan).
Their answers and conversations also bring to light how early in life gender differences emerge and how expected gender roles and behaviors permeate all aspects of their everyday lives—from their relation with their parents to their evaluation of each other. That includes their definitions of what constitutes appropriate behavior—what it means to be a good or bad girl, a good or bad boy
Dedicating effort to study and doing well in school are defining attributes of good girls and boys alike and one of their main responsibilities. Second to school for girls comes helping at home. Other markers of a good girl include individual character traits—such as being obedient and respectful. In contrast, lack of modesty in dress and going out without a specific purpose or staying out late are perceived as inappropriate behavior for girls.
"[Boys] have more freedom to be out, girls have limits.” “Girls are afraid that if they go out something can happen to them or they can get raped,” said girls and boys in the Dominican Republic. Their peers in other countries agree: “Boys can be as free as they wish and that is alright. Girls cannot go out in the evening. Boys can go anywhere they wish” (Indonesia). “Boys are free to move around the community. Wherever they go they don’t worry and no one questions them” (Republic of Yemen). “Girls have to find fun inside the house because they are not allowed to go out like the boys” (West Bank and Gaza). “Women should stay home. . . . It is preferred to be at home and not go out on the street or any other place” (North Sudan).
For boys, risky behaviors—smoking, drinking, drug use—are central in the definition of a bad boy, and a good boy is defined as a boy who does not have these behaviors.