Sugar Daddies are Definitely NOT Sweet

The situation is all too common…a young girl is looking to fill a void left by an absent or abusive father, and an older man seizes the opportunity to offer comfort and gifts – at a price. The term ‘Sugar Daddy’ is an awfully sweet-sounding way to refer to men who leverage their power and wealth to bait young girls into a sexual trap.

In Lesotho (southern Africa), sugar daddies are called ‘blessers’. As girls’ bodies start to change in early adolescence, older men take notice. The girls, often orphans with no emotional support, crave the attention and feel that it is cool to have an older man show interest in them. A mother from Lesotho explains, “we find that for some girls who have grown up without a father, these sugar daddies provide something like a ‘fatherly love’, but really they are exploiting them.”

Blessers initiate relationships by buying girls presents ranging from small trinkets to new clothing to cell phones. At first the gifts are given with sweet words and compliments and the girls are thrilled to have new, luxury items. But before long, blessers are asking for favours in return and they only have one thing in mind.

All relationships between girls and blessers are sexual in nature. Many girls become pregnant, which typically terminates the relationship because blessers will not take responsibility for impregnating the girls. The blesser returns to his wife and children, while the girl is left with the shame of telling her elders that she had a relationship with a man the age of her father.

Perhaps even more devastating than pregnancy, many girls contract HIV as a result of their blesser relationships. These men typically know their status yet they convince girls that having sex with a condom is a bad idea (some men go so far as to say that condoms cause kidney disease in men – a claim with no truth whatsoever). The girls have no defence and no retribution; their shame keeps them from asking for help.

Shocking as it is, some girls intentionally seek out blessers, entering into relationships with a list of goods they hope to secure. These girls know that this behaviour is dangerous, yet the appeal of accessing nice items is too strong to resist. Most girls do not yet recognize that the gifts are not worth the cost of what they are required to give up. It often takes hindsight for the girls to recognize that they do not really want to be in a relationship with a blesser. Many wish they could return to childhood and forget the adult world they abruptly entered.

Ending a relationship between a blesser and a girl is at least as unsavoury as the relationship itself. Most girls have no say whatsoever, and may even be further victimized for trying to end things. One girl shared, “my friend is trying to end her involvement with a sugar daddy and now he wants to kill her. She has changed her phone number too – he is stalking her.”

Some parents of adolescent girls try to warn their daughters of the risks associated with sugar daddies; others encourage it. Regardless, the girls are often more interested in what their peers are up to rather than listening to their parents. For parents with daughters who board at school, the concern is even worse. One mother explains:

“My daughter normally uses public [transportation] to go home. One day, I called her to check in and I heard men’s voices in the background. I started to panic. It was the case that they were just men near the bus, but of course I was so worried that maybe a man had offered her a ride in his car.”

The prevalence of sugar daddy relationships is difficult to determine since both the girls and the blessers go to great efforts to keep their relationships a secret – girls because of the shame, blessers because of the risk to their marriages and family relationships. What we do know for certain is that these relationships are too common. In any high school, it would not be difficult to find several girls who sneak off to meet their blessers after school.

Sugar daddies, as the adults in the relationships, need to take responsibility for protecting rather than preying on young girls. These relationships are dangerous and harmful, often leading to a lifetime of trauma. The good news is that this problem is relatively straightforward to address – men need to stop engaging in sexual relationships with young girls!

A Seat at the Table with Indego Africa

We have all heard the battle cry for education from the first lady, Michelle Obama and the call for inclusion from GIWPS Executive Director Melenne Verveer. Both women have been in the spotlight for their views and work with women and girls, specifically individuals living in impoverished areas or post conflict zones. Both women are sending the same message: Women and girls need to be seen as active drivers of progress and development, and we need to be better at including them in these processes.

We know the facts and we have the data, and it proves that women don’t just deserve to be part of the magical operation called decision making but it also makes monetary sense as well as humanitarian sense. We are here, we are humans and we are capable of playing an active role in our legislative, judicial, parliamentary and governmental bodies so give us a seat at the freaking table.

Since we have all these facts and data that prove the importance of educating girls and including women in the legislative process, why are there so few countries and organizations with women in leadership roles and why is the amount of funding for secondary education in marginalized communities so low?

Unfortunately I don’t have the answer to these questions, but I can share information about organizations that are making tremendous strides towards change. Recently I chatted with Elizabeth Coates, regional board member for Indego Africa. We shared stories about our initial interest in women and girls education as well as some of the intersecting issues within this area. Education and financial security often goes hand and hand. As women and adults, we need to feel a sense of independence a sense of self and often this is achieved by being able to say,

“Yes I did that with MY hands, MY brain, MY skills, MY money. I contributed to this family, house, community, society…I am an integral part!”

It is not hard to figure out that educating a woman really has a positive impact on countless people – but sometimes it helps to see the numbers that support that claim. Indego Africa partners with artisans in Rwanda and Ghana, and provides vocational courses as well as courses to enhance entrepreneurial skills. 52% of women graduating from their Leadership Academy in Rwanda started new businesses; in addition, 92% of IA artisans had banks in comparison to 35% of women in Rwanda.

I’m sure that IA is not the only organization partnering with local community members to empower women. So if you know of an organization that deserves the spotlight let us know, shout it out and leave a comment.

 

3 Ways Girls Are Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Do you ever have those moments in life that stick out as “light bulb” moments? Whether you are driving down a road or in a meeting at work. Something hits you like a ton of bricks and you understand certain aspects of life more clearly. One of these “light bulb” moments occurred for me three years ago at the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. I walked into the UN with head held high, ready to attend a high level lunch to talk about progress for women, girls and children. I brushed by Melinda Gates and ran into Mohammed Yunus and chatted with him for a little while. I am not the type of person who gets star struck but let’s just say there were a lot of important people in the room.

As the beautiful lunch continued, I scanned the room and quickly realized there wasn’t one single girl, woman or child in the room. At that moment I remember thinking:

What makes us think that we can wall ourselves into a high level lunch to talk about women’s and girls’ lives without even including them?

Since that time we have transitioned from focusing on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Essentially, these are a set of goals and targets for countries to reach to improve global development and the world as whole. The MDGs had 8 goals with lofty targets and the SDGS have 17 goals. In rooms devoid of women and girls the question has historically been: How are we going to involve girls and young women in this? I think we need to focus on the what, not the how, this year. There are so many ways young girls and women are already making a difference.

Girls and Young Women Are:

  1. Raising their Voices – All over the world, girls and young women are not only talking about sustainable development they are a part of it. Do a quick Google search on young women activists and I guarantee you will find hours of multimedia and inspirational talks.
  2. Writing for Action – Young women and girls all over the world are utilizing new media and technology like never before. Take the latest post from Girls’ Globe blogger, Mia as an example.
  3. Advocating for Change – Young women and girls are advocating for adolescent health, education and against practices like child marriage, female genital mutilation and so many other injustices around the world. Just take a look at how young girls view the SDGs in this recent beautiful photo montage.

This year, Girls’ Globe has 6 amazing young women coming to the UN General Assembly from around the globe. The purpose? To enter into these spaces so that their voices and opinions are heard. They are changemakers. During the 71st Session of the United Nations, the question shouldn’t be: Why should we include girls and women in the implementation and decision making for the Sustainable Development Goals? The conversations and discussions will hopefully be what are they already doing to see this through? Simply because they are already DOING IT.

Girls’ Globe will be present in NYC during the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly. Follow the hashtag #GlobalGoals and core coverage partners, Johnson & Johnson and FHI 360. Sign up for the In Focus Newsletter at crowd360.org/unga-2016/

Featured image: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina (Creative Commons)

Letter to A Young Girl

This letter is written by a young woman to her earlier self whose career is about to take a huge transformation. In this letter, she reflects on which characteristics and attitudes she wishes to retain and what she hopes to accomplish as she progresses forward to achieving her medical dreams. She also hopes that it will inspire other girls to go confidently as they pursue their scientific careers.


Dear Me,

I hope you’re well. I cannot tell you what you will encounter in the next four years, the people who will change your life, the experiences that will leave an ingrained memory in your brain. A lot of questions flood my mind as I think about the journey you will go through: Do you still keep your sense of poetry? Your creative writing? Does the idea of taking care of another human being terrify you? Do you still give humorous lectures of how things work in the molecular world? Do you still only eat fish and vegetables just to keep your mental faculties sane? (Please do relax sometimes! And find time to play chess!) Most importantly, are you happy with the career path and the life that you have chosen?

But I know one thing for certain: You are amazing, and you will achieve great things in life.

I recognize your personality quirks and your ambitious drive to accomplish many things at a young age. I can tell you are shy and unsure. I can see that you attempt to cover up that insecurity by putting yourself through a rigorous sleep and diet regimen and controlling every part of your daily life. I don’t expect you to lose that insecurity overnight, but I do hope that you will harness that insecurity and your talents into becoming a better you.

Can you see your own light? Are you aware of your own brilliance?

I am aware of the times when you felt small, the times when you thought there is a “you” and “them.” You usually do not trust anyone, and you’d most likely fact-check that person’s statement first before believing them. Even though you have won many scientific accolades, “scientific culture” still feels foreign to you. You are about to enter into a profession that requires you to cope with a lot of mentally-demanding experiences, a profession that encourages a divide between the provider and patient, the healer and healed. However, I hope that you do not stray too far from what it means to be a physician, but rather exercise the rules of detachment and empathy carefully.

As you become more knowledgeable, I hope you never forget who you are. You hold your special kind of intelligence, the kind of wisdom that goes far into the future. You don’t have to compare yourself to anyone because there is no one like you. You are a wonderful collection of magical and raw talents. You have conquered obstacles that no one else could. You know things that no one else knows. You are good at things that no one else does better than you. Your life story is a work of art.

I hope you always look in the mirror and remind yourself how incredibly fortunate you are to have the choice to do what you are doing. Because even when you are in the midst of great darkness, you have the power to lead and inspire the people around you. I hope you never have an ego the size of Jupiter, and I hope you keep reflecting on your life experiences through writing. I hope you find the right specialty that works for you. Will you still strive to be an orthopedic surgeon, or would you choose to become a neurologist? I hope you find a mentor that works for you, like an enzyme and its substrate, someone whom you admire and respect. I hope you continue to not take things personally, but rather let your heart guide you to where you want to go.

I want you to keep the passion and the ambition to become the best physician, the best researcher, the best teacher… basically, the best version of yourself. Please don’t try to change who you are. Your life is important, and you cannot be replaced.

Thank you for being you.

I wish you all the best, and I hope to see you in four years.

Megan, ’16

Cover photo: Wikimedia Commons

Originally published at The Huffington Post