Melody Chiong and Anupama Menon know females and males aren’t treated equally in school. As student members of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Sex Equity Commission, both have heard such complaints as those made by members of a high school women’s softball team who were denied new uniforms repeatedly while the men’s baseball team got new duds every year.
They’ve interviewed physical education teachers who believe boys and girls should learn sports separately because boys play harder.
Together, they’ve tried to do something about the gender inequities that have become plain to them in their own school system.
Next week, with commission Director Donna Cassyd, the pair will attend the United Nations International Conference on Women in Beijing. There, they will learn about the struggle of women to achieve parity with men in educational, social, economic and political arenas.
Melody, 17, and Menon, 18, both said they aren’t sure just what to expect. But they appreciate the significance of the once-a-decade event--from 30,000 to 40,000 women are scheduled to attend--and that it could be one of the greatest adventures of their lives.
Though Menon and Melody both won scholarships that would have paid for air fare to and from the two-week conference, the money fell through at the last minute. Both students decided to pay for the trip out of their own pockets. Menon is using money she saved working two jobs, as a ticket taker in a movie theater and as a city summer intern. Melody also will dip into savings and is getting some help from her parents.
“Look, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Menon, who graduated from Cleveland High School and will attend Stanford University in the fall. “I have a feeling we’ll meet some very amazing women. I’m just going to attend as many seminars and talk to as many people as I can.”
A member of the Sex Equity Commission for three years prior to her graduation, Menon pushed for greater AIDS awareness and lobbied for better sex-harassment protections for students. At the conference, she hopes to learn about issues of personal development, particularly during adolescence, and how social attitudes can affect individual women’s lives.
“How young are women when they are being asked to make certain important choices in their lives?” she said. “And, are they even being asked? Or are they being pushed, for example, to stay home with the kids, versus being encouraged to pursue careers?”
Melody, whose parents are Chinese, is making her second trip to Beijing. A rising senior at Eagle Rock High School, she has been a member of the commission for three years. Melody supported a boycott led by an Asian immigrant women’s group that claimed that fashion designer Jessica McClintock used contractors who cheated women immigrant workers out of wages.
At the conference, Melody hopes to meet as many Chinese nationals as possible.
“I’m going to ask them, ‘What’s it like for women over here?’ ” she said. “I hope they have the same access to education opportunities that we do. When you think about it, that’s what it all boils down to. Education.”