This Women’s Day and every other day, lead a child outside

Author: Nicolette Griffioen
Image: Pierre Jordaan

At the age of five, I walked my first 3-day overnight hike. I swam in rock pools, built riverside sandcastles and climbed trees. In the evenings I showered by starlight, built my own fire and braaied marshmallows on sticks. I learnt essential skills such as trail-watching for snakes, taking a bush wee, and shaking my boots out for spiders and scorpions each morning. And I had no reason to suspect that not all 5-year-old girls were doing the same!

My eco-centric upbringing and subsequent love of nature is something I owe entirely to my mom and my grandmother. I was privileged to have two generations of strong, independent and able females before me, leading me on the right paths of life from the very beginning. I never doubted that men and women were equal, or that I couldn’t achieve anything I dreamed of and set my mind to.

This year on the 9th of August South Africans will celebrate the 25th National Women’s Day. Originally declared to commemorate the 1956 march of 20 000 women in protest of “pass” laws, today it provides an opportunity to highlight the significant issues still faced by women. From domestic violence to unequal education, opportunity and pay, the road to gender equality remain a long and challenging one for our country.

For individual women, these issues can seem daunting and near-impossible to resolve. But like most change, it starts at home with small, consistent steps. This women’s month I want to encourage every South African – mother, father, guardian – who has contact with young children, to make the effort to regularly take them out into nature. Giving children the opportunity to play and learn in an outdoor classroom is critical to development. It allows them to explore their limits, both physical and emotional, and establish a stronger sense of self-worth, belonging and “place” on planet earth. Empowering children in this way at a young age can help create a life-long mentality of equality.

I believe that this environment-based education is the all-important first step, not only in the fight against gender inequality but also a myriad of world-wide issues. Research has shown that children who connect with nature are more apt to become environmentally conscious beings, and so the very future of our planet rests primarily with the youth of today.

Based on the personal and greater benefits of exposure to nature then, is it not the very least we can do to ensure that all children experience the wonders of the natural earth? The sensation of dirt between their toes, rain on their skin and a frog in hand? Absolutely yes... So lead a child outside this women’s day, and every other day.