Taking the SDGs from Formality to Reality

This post was authored by Allison Pfotzer and Dinnah Nabwire on behalf of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls. 

During the United Nations General Assembly’s 70th session in September 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were signed and the global development agenda was set for the next fifteen years. Members of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls (CAG) worked to ensure that the SDGs adequately address adolescent girls’ needs and the challenges they face in contributing to sustainable development.

Today there are over 1.8 billion young people (ages 10-24 years) globally, 50% of whom are female. Every day 37,000 girls are married off as child brides, while 225 million wish to delay or prevent pregnancy but cannot.  It is projected that 15 million girls between the ages of 15-19 will undergo female genital mutilation by 2030. Adolescent girls are also the only demographic experiencing increasing rates of HIV infection and an increasing risk of suicide, both serious challenges to the SDGs. The following four key recommendations illustrate how to leverage the SDGs to affect real change in the lives of adolescent girls.

1) Ask girls what they need and listen to what they say

To create change through effective girl-centered programing, we must respectfully consult with girls and then act on behalf of their responses. A huge part of this is finding and asking girls directly, which means engaging girls consistently—wherever they are. Girls are often severely isolated and implementing entities need to conduct strategic efforts around identification and engagement so that the voices of the most hidden and vulnerable girls are included. The Girl Roster Tool and the Partners and Allies Toolkit for Meaningful Adolescent Girl Engagement outline strategies for locating and engaging girls so as to create more effective programs, projects, policies, and research.

2) Mobilize financing for girl-centered investments

Sustainable and inclusive global partnerships to finance the achievement of the SDGs allow us to implement evidence-based programs and services, collect meaningful data, evaluate our efforts, and better address the actual problems of girls’ globally. The work of the CAG and its partners is essential and must be adequately resourced so that we can use our tools and expertise to directly transform girls’ lives.

3) Collaborate and communicate

A key part of achieving these goals is the inclusion of diverse voices from policy-makers, development actors, and community members – especially girls themselves. Too long have adolescent girls been left out of conversations about their needs. Examples of inclusion can be seen in Marie Stopes International’s campaign titled Make Women Matter, which sought to consolidate global commitment for reproductive choice and rights to improve the lives of women by 2030. Another NGO, Advocates for Youth, developed a Girl Engagement Advisory Board, composed of ten girls ages 15-20, which works closely with advocates to directly engage girls, elevate their voices globally, and provide direct feedback on girls’ current needs and issues.

4) Measure progress for all those affected, especially adolescent girls

We must continuously assess the progress made on each development goal and target. Translating the SDGs to action on local and community levels is key to addressing the specific and unique needs of girls. For instance, Goal 6 addresses clean water and sanitation. While this goal isn’t directly for girls, it addresses the need for private, safe, and clean school facilities where girls can manage their menstrual hygiene and other personal needs. Quantitative and qualitative tracking of Goal 6 that is sensitive to girls’ needs enables the development community to make evidence-based decisions and affect measurable change in the lives of girls. (A collaborative document by the Girl Declaration Joint Advocacy Group and the CAG shows how to ensure that indicators for each goal and target are inclusive of adolescent girls.)

The SDGs provide an opportunity for development partners to innovate on past experience by adopting a “whole girl” approach. An integrated approach acknowledges the interconnected complexity of girls’ realities and offers a better chance for them to receive the services and support they need to fulfill their potential. The 2030 SDGs finally—formally—took note of girls. But for formality to become reality, we must listen to girls, provide resources and partnerships to the groups engaging girls in their programming, measure our results, and act from those measurements in concise and connected ways.

Featured Image: Coalition for Adolescent Girls

Education Combats Gender Based Violence

Amidst today’s global turmoil, let us not overlook the ongoing gender based violence impacting women and girls on a daily basis.  One-third of women in the world have been beaten, forced into sex, or abused.  One in five will become a victim of rape or attempted rape.  In conflict zones, gender based violence is epidemic.

Myanmar is not exempt from this impact on basic human rights.  The country has been immersed in civil wars and conflict since the 1960’s. At that time the military junta enacted the Four Cuts policy, consisting of “attacking villages, forcing ethnic villagers to move into heavily controlled relocation sites, destroying their homes and crops, and planting landmines in their former villages and farms to prevent their return”.

Thousands of children have been displaced by ongoing conflict in Myanmar, limiting their access to education, psycho-social support, and protection.  Impacts to these children are severe, especially for girls who are at high risk of sexual assault.

The story of Chang Chang is, unfortunately, too familiar.  She was attacked and raped in her village, along with four of her friends, by a group of Burmese military soldiers. News spread quickly, and she was punished for bringing shame to her family, school and community. Her teacher caned her in front of the entire school, and then expelled her.  Later, she was expelled from her community. Left without support from her community or the opportunity of education, she was arrested by the police for “defaming” the same soldiers that raped her. The official charge for which she was sentenced to one year in prison was prostitution.

Simultaneously, Burmese women continue to be victims of domestic violence.  Under Myanmar’s penal code, marital rape is only criminalized if the wife is younger than 14 years old. No specific laws exist to prohibit domestic violence, and women’s shelters and centers are rare.  The most commonly reported internal coping strategy for women in dealing with abuse is to ‘stay silent’.

Patriarchy is embedded in their lives.  Women are not considered capable of leadership and are frequently described as “useless”, using a Burmese phrase that describes inability and incompetence.  It is not surprising to hear the Burmese proverb – “if you beat your wife until her bones are broken, she will love you more”.

NOW the timing for change in Myanmar is optimal.  The country opened to the world in 2012. On November 8th, 2015, Myanmar conducted its first democratic election in 25 years.  Senior citizens and young activists waited in lines for hours to vote for the first time in their lives.

When Parliament convenes in January, 11% of the seats will be held by women.  An increased number of women in Parliament provides a voice for women’s issues and the power to affect change and implement applicable laws.

Women’s activist and electorate Cheery Zahau believes that empowering women is the first step towards a truly developed society.  Cho Cho Aye, Yangon electorate, hopes that more female representation in parliament will help address domestic violence across the country.

Educational Empowerment believes the answer to ending gender based violence is education.   Education will change the existing mindset that women and girls are not deserving of equal rights.  Education will enable boys to better understand girls’ issues and encourage them to contribute to a gender equal society.  Education will empower girls with self-confidence and self-esteem. Education will change a society’s practice and reduce conflict.

This year’s theme for 16 Days of Activism Against GBV is “Make Education Safe For All”.  Let’s call for action on the part of global policy makers to honor and fulfill girls’ right to education, equality, and safety.  Encourage policymakers to:

  • implement primary and secondary school-wide curriculum on gender awareness, healthy relationships, sexual health and rights, and human rights
  • develop and implement guidelines for teachers and school counselors to recognize signs of child abuse
  • respond to children’s experiences of violence sensitively within and outside school, and utilize local authorities to remedy the actions.

You too can take immediate action:

  • Join Girls Globe conversation on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • Become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights.
  • Donate to Educational Empowerment at donate.
  • Let your voice be heard for girls worldwide!

Educational Empowerment was created by women and for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities severely affected by poverty and injustice in Myanmar. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women in Myanmar to attain their equal rights.

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org & follow us on Facebook at EE, Twitter @EEmpower, and on Instagram.

The Power of the Adolescent Girl

When the Millennium Development Goals were implemented in 2000, Naw Cynthia was an adolescent girl striving for an education with little support from her family, her country of Myanmar, or the world at large.  Today, as global leaders recently met for the United Nations General Assembly to establish new goals for 2016, the face of this agenda is an adolescent girl – a girl in school, safe, not married off, and able to aspire to follow her dreams.

The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child on October 11th is ‘the power of the adolescent girl’.  Global communities are being called upon to commit to critical investments in quality education, skills, training, access to technology and other learning initiatives that prepare girls for life, jobs, and leadership.

The world recently witnessed the courage and power of an adolescent Pakistani girl, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafazi, who fought the Taliban for her right to attend school.  Malala’s story, detailed in her book I Am Malala and her upcoming documentary, He Named Me Malala, is an inspiration for girls all around the world.

However, it is not an easy journey for adolescent girls.  Naw Cynthia was one of five children with an absent father and a mother driven to beat her children.  As a young girl, Naw Cynthia was sexually abused by her neighbor.  These abuses seriously impacted her confidence. Yet she was determined to rise above her childhood and stand tall.  She knew that a good education would be her liberator.

Now a well-educated and respected proponent of quality education and literacy in Myanmar, Naw Cynthia is working to give today’s adolescent girls a voice and to encourage them to pursue their dreams through education.

Naw Cynthia readily shares her story with adolescent girls because she wants them to be strong and to not compromise their dreams.  She tells Burmese girls “You are NOT weak.  You are strong.  Do NOT let others look down on you.  And do NOT tolerate any form of abuse or harassment.”

Like so many women who juggle multiple responsibilities, Naw Cynthia worries she is not a good mother or a good leader or a good wife.  We believe she is an outstanding role model for girls and boys.  Naw Cynthia will teach her son to treat girls with respect and to value their contribution in the world.

Girls need inspirational role models like Naw Cynthia and Malala.   With approval from Malala Foundation, Educational Empowerment is translating I Am Malala into Burmese.  Soon it will be published in Yangon so Burmese girls can read Malala’s powerful story. Educational Empowerment is proud to be an advocate for girls’ rights at this pivotal time in history.  Girls need to know they have rights and how to access them.  Let’s all celebrate the power of the adolescent girl.

To take immediate action:

  • Join Girls Globe conversation on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • Become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights.
  • Donate to Educational Empowerment at donate.
  • Let your voices be heard for girls worldwide!

Educational Empowerment was created by women and for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities severely affected by poverty and injustice in Myanmar. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women in Myanmar to attain their equal rights.

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org & follow us on Facebook at EE, Twitter @EEmpower, and on Instagram.

(Her)Story: A Revolution

Originally published on The Huffington Post

Think back to your high school’s United States history book: Remember that tiny paragraph on the women’s suffrage movement? The one-sentence descriptions on the contributions of Rosalind Franklin to the discovery of DNA, Coretta Scott King to the civil rights movement, and Eleanor Roosevelt to the New Deal policies? The absence of LGBTQ-identified women and women of color in the paragraph about the 1960s “second-wave” women’s movement?

We at Women SPEAK want to change that.

Based in Los Angeles, Women SPEAK is an organization that empowers young women to cultivate positive body image, deconstruct gender media stereotypes, and lead change in their communities. Our latest project? Redefining history into HerStory.

History has narrowly framed accomplishments, success, and innovation in the context of *his* story, mainly stories of men. We see this truth all around us: for example, in the absence of women on our currency and in the few women that are honored in commemorative spaces and public places. Women are absent in the public narratives of history in the United States and around the globe. The literal erasure of women in history has affected our perceptions of who woman are and can be.

What are the consequences? Our present reality. The absence of women in our retelling of history is seen in the gender disparity of our everyday lives. Today, women represent only 19.4% in our congressional legislature. During the 2014 Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case ruling, an all-male majority overruled the voices of all three female Supreme Court justices by exempting certain employers from providing birth control and contraception coverage through the ACA. Moreover, in spite of women graduating at a higher rate from college than men, women in the U.S. workforce face a plethora of issues: gender discrimination, a gender pay gap, and no mandatory paid maternity leave — all piling reasons that deter women from attaining positions of leadership and influence today.

Progress does not mean success. We want to change that.

We at Women SPEAK want to be part of reclaiming history to press for our stories as women and girls. This year, we’re launching HerStory at our 2nd Annual Women SPEAK Girls’ Leadership Summit, a conference that seeks to empower current and future generations of high school and college students to join our movement. HerStory is a yearlong initiative that will reclaim the historical and current contributions of women around the world through monthly production of HerStory literary zines, a yearlong mentorship program curriculum through our Women SPEAK national high school and college chapters, social media campaigns, and advocacy projects with local women’s rights organizations.

Through HerStory, we want to demand more from our history books and education. We seek to retell, recreate, and reclaim the powerful stories of women who have been critical in the formation of our world, our stories, and our communities — the stories that have for far too long been minimized, silenced, and forgotten.

We seek to redefine history through the critical lens of HerStory, a movement that not only seeks to re-envision the past, but pave a future in which women are valued equally to their male counterparts. By educating the young women of today, we hope to inspire them by telling the stories of the women before them who have created a path.

We at Women SPEAK are starting a revolution to shift our understanding of how women have changed and are changing the world.

This revolution will not be televised.

The 2nd Annual Women SPEAK Girls’ Leadership Summit will be held on Saturday, July 11 at California Polytechnic State University Pomona’s Bronco Student Center. All high school students and incoming college freshmen are invited. Registration is free. To sign up, go to www.womenspeakteam.org.