Giving Girls the Power of Sight

Advocates know that the burden of inequality often falls harder on women and girls. What Seva Canada have found is that this uneven distribution extends to even the most basic ability: sight.

Of the 36 million people worldwide who are blind, 20 million of those are women and 1.4 million are children.

2 out of 3 children who are blind are girls.

Studies have found no biological differences to explain this incredible disparity. Rather, research shows that women and girl children are exposed more frequently to the factors that caused vision loss (like malnutrition or infectious diseases). They also access eye care services less often than men.


The perceived value of women may mean families or communities are less likely to invest in expensive healthcare to restore or treat degenerative eye problems.

And girls face the additional barrier of being too young to advocate for themselves, with fewer resources at their disposal.

Robbing a women or girl of her eyesight takes away more than her quality of life. It makes it significantly harder (if not, in some cases, near impossible) for her to improve her life or her family’s.


Some of the leading causes of blindness for women and girls are treatable or curable. According to Seva, a whopping 80% of blindness is either preventable or treatable.

That means 4 out of 5 people who are blind don’t need to be.

“When you give 1 person back their sight, you give 2 people back their lives.”

Seva has developed practical solutions, some very low-cost, to significantly reduce the burden of blindness and a lack of eye care in poor communities. These include connecting women and girls to care, providing glasses and medicine, and training for and provision of corrective surgery.

In the last year alone, Seva restored sight to 61,000 women and girls in low-income countries. Many more received eye care services and equipment.


The potential ripple effect of Seva’s work is huge.

When a girl can see, she can stay in school, she can work, she can become a full and active participant of a fair and equal economy; an integral part of uplifting a community and a country.

Raising the Girl Agenda in Myanmar

We are still coming off the buzz of a really energetic and earnest Girls’ National Conference in Myanmar. Bringing together adolescent girls from across 70 diverse communities, the conference supported girls to work together and articulate an agenda to submit to regional and national lawmakers.

This agenda will be in the form of a letter. It will describe the barriers faced by girls in communities across Myanmar and the ways that law-makers can help to knock down these barriers so that all girls can achieve their full potential.

Last year, we made a big deal of International Day of the Girl – dedicating almost an entire season to it! We created opportunities for girls from all of our project communities to contribute directly to the development of an agenda for national and regional change – an agenda that would support girls’ development, education, access to safe work, freedom of movement, expression and beyond.

There were two key steps to making this work. Firstly, we held Regional Forums in 15 geographic hubs. Then, based on the outcomes from those events, we built the content and activities needed to make the National Conference both productive and deeply connected to the views and attitudes of adolescent girls.

In the lead up to those Regional Forums, our staff moved around the country with a mission to ensure every girl currently enrolled in our weekly leadership circles — over 3,000 girls — could attend a forum in her region. This would mean every girl could meet with others from nearby areas to discuss the specific, and sometimes invisible, barriers they share which can diminish self-perception and limit  choice.

Girls’ Regional Forums

The forums were focused on consensus-building activities. The day’s discussions were based on what we already knew about the situations of girls in different areas and the concerns girls have expressed to us in the past. In small groups, girls worked through various possible barriers to identify which applied most directly to their lives. They also discussed specific examples of times when, as a girl, they have encountered a barrier, been discriminated against, or felt unheard.

Girls’ National Conference

Immediately following the regional forums, we held our inaugural Girls’ National Conference in the City Hall of the ancient capital of Mandalay. The theme was “Girls, do you know you can fly?”  Attending the conference were 140 adolescent girls – peer-selected delegates representing nearly all of Girl Determined’s project communities.  Each spokesgirl shared on behalf of girls in her unique community, speaking out in a broader discussion with other girls facing sometimes similar and sometimes different issues.

Over two full days, the conference brought girls’ voices and experiences to the fore, while encouraging girls to act as change-makers in their communities and consider a different future for girls and women. Girls heard from one another and were introduced to basic concepts of civic action. Through consensus-building activities, they drafted a joint-letter expressing the concise needs of adolescent girls nation-wide.

Four main issues came out as the most detrimental to girls’ success in Myanmar:

    • inadequate or limited access to education
    • inadequate or limited access to health, nutrition, and sanitation needs
    • feeling unsafe and not knowing how to respond in dangerous situations
    • feeling unable to make decisions and express opinions about their own lives

We expect to see more girls taking issues into their own hands by expressing their needs in a structured way and demanding accountability by those in positions to make decisions.

Building On The Outcomes

Now that the conference has ended, two tasks remain.

Firstly, we will refine and revise the letter before the girls present it to members of parliament. A delegation of six girls from the conference will present the letter and express their concerns and hopes directly to parliamentarians.

Secondly, we will report back to ALL the girls who contributed their experience and insight on what their inputs have gone towards – both at the National Conference and during the direct appeal to lawmakers.

We will report back to all these girls through an article in our Wut Hmon magazine, and through a summary video of the National Conference.  This way, girls who weren’t at the national level gathering can see how their concerns were carried forth by their peers, and can experience the full process from regional forums to visits with parliaments.

We are excited to see how this plays out in the coming months, as girls’ voices resonate through Myanmar to create awareness of the hardships girls face, and of how they can rise up together.

What We Need to Know About HIV & Adolescent Girls

The term ‘adolescent girls’ encompasses, in theory, all those aged 10-24. In reality, the lower section of that age bracket – the 10-19 year olds specifically – receive the least attention and are therefore the least comprehensively catered for when it comes to HIV/AIDS information and services.

So what do we know?

  • There is no country in the world where we don’t have adolescents living with HIV, and adolescent girls remain disproportionately affected.
  • There are 990,000 girls between 10-19 years old living with HIV globally. For boys of the same age, that figure drops to 770, 000.
  • Every hour, 26 adolescents are infected with HIV – two thirds of these are girls.
  • Adolescent AIDS-related deaths are increasing.
  • Very young adolescents are generally overlooked, since at this age they face a relatively low burden of disease. However, 10-14 is a critical life phase for shaping future health and development.

And what don’t we know?

  • There are HUGE differences between 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 year old girls, but we don’t have data that represents those differences by being divided up into specific age intervals.
  • There are considerable barriers to conducting research with adolescent girls which we don’t know how to overcome. For example, adults are often uncomfortable when dealing with adolescents in general, as well as with sexuality in general. This makes dealing with adolescent sexuality pretty problematic for many.
  • We are confused about adolescent’s ability to provide informed consent. Too often we think of them as children and judge their capacity to consent to research accordingly.

What can we do?

ROLE MODELS
Having a positive image of someone who is older, but not too much older, motivates young adolescents to feel that they belong to a kind of community, and that their hopes and dreams are worth spending time on.

PEER-TO-PEER SUPPORT
Very young adolescents find it more comfortable and easier to receive information from a peer. Well-informed peer educators can disperse knowledge and skills in a non-intimidating, non-alienating way.

SAFE SPACES
There need to be places for young people to start talking about their sexual and fertility needs. An adolescent girl needs to feel that it’s ok to walk up to another person and say “I’m sexually active”, or “I’m thinking about having sex.” It requires physical space; whether it’s actual chairs where you sit and talk or virtual space that exists online, where dialogues can happen comfortably and openly.

SHIFTING MINDSETS
We need to enable and support a shift in  the mindsets of those providing information and care, because too often the values and mindsets of providers conflict with the needs of young people. In many countries, a 14 year old girl coming to a clinic looking for contraception will be met first and foremost with an interrogation about why she is thinking about having sex at her age at all.

FAMILY PLANNING
The very term ‘family planning’ alienates adolescents, since the whole point is that they’re trying to avoid having a family. What young girls are looking for is contraception and protection.

SEX EDUCATION
We need information that isn’t so broad, that’s more age specific. There is no other subject that you’d approach in the same with with a 10 year old and a 13 year old. The best case scenario is that information is either too complex or too simple, and the worst is that it’s patronising, alienating, intimidating, or confusing.

If we truly want to #EndHIV4Her, we need to zoom in on very young adolescent girls and acknowledge their specific needs.

Girls’ Globe is present at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa (17-22nd of July). Follow our team on social media @GirlsGlobe, @FHI360 & @JNJGlobalHealth and by using the hashtag #EndHIV4Her for inspiring blog posts, interviews and updates! To sign up for the daily In Focus Newsletter visit crowd360.org/aids2016/.

Cover Photo Credit: World Bank, Flickr Creative Commons

Integrated Development: A Response for Women & HIV

Sub-Saharan Africa is presently the most severely affected region by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. According to the UNAIDS GAP Report, of the total population of 36.7 million living with HIV or AIDS globally, 19 million (seven out of every ten people) live in Eastern and Sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls and young women accounting for one in four new HIV infections in the region, therefore, every day in Sub-Saharan Africa 1000 girls and young women are infected with HIV.

South Africa, in particular, has one of the fastest growing rates of HIV infections in the world with an estimated 6.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2015, an increase from 5.4 million in 2014. A high proportion of young people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa are young women and adolescents aged 15-24, where 2000 new infections are reported from this vulnerable and at-risk population group every week.  HIV/AIDS also continues to be the highest leading cause of death amongst women and adolescents around the world. Failure to address the needs of women and girls living with and without HIV/AIDS in a holistic, comprehensive, coordinated and monitored manner, the global, regional and national health community will continue to be challenged in successfully accomplishing the overall mandate of reducing new HIV infections, HIV-related stigma and discrimination by 2030. Therefore, integrative development approaches to combating HIV/AIDS amongst women and girls is a key plausible solution to responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic to fast-track and accelerate efforts to ending HIV/AIDS by 2030. Below are eight approaches to help ensure success in reaching the most women and girls possible.

  • A combination of prevention approaches tailored for women are vital, to predispose people to engage in unsafe behaviours. The tailored package can be presented to the target group in the form of a portable, easily accessible and readily available technological device.
  • HIV related deaths result in financial difficulties and its burden to the lack of affordability of basic health care services, eventually leading to poverty, HIV/AIDS and poverty eradication should be given a specific task to tackle.
  • Lack of access to education is a deterrent for women when making informed decisions about SRH issues. Knowledge and awareness play a significant role in impacting on skills and behaviour, which have the ability to address gender inequality barriers, stigma and discrimination amongst vulnerable women and those not in education, training or employment.
  • Inequalities have an impact on sexual behaviour – impacting on health care, information, education – these economic and social inequalities put women at risk of engaging in exploitative sexual relationships, which put them at risk of contracting new HIV infections
  • 19 million people living HIV, around the world do not know their positive status. HIV/AIDS remains dormant for several years and asymptotic in the beginning stages, which allows for significant disease progression to go undetected and lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Therefore populations with higher counts of infected persons have to be capacitated and incentivised with information, to respond to early detection and treatment of the disease, to foster a longer and healthier life.
  • Mainstreaming HIV programs across sectors and industries to reach out to working women in various areas, nation and continental wide. The programs need to be cross-cutting and inclusive.
  • HIV program funding institutions funding organisations responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic need to concretely integrate sexual and reproductive health services with HIV testing, prevention and care.
  • HIV prevention, treatment, support, care and testing have to prioritize evidence-based strategies to monitor and evaluate impact, to ultimately reduce risk amongst women. Age appropriate and situation adherence to offering comprehensive sex education for women irrespective of age, ethnicity and beliefs, testing, counselling, support and care measures need to be institutionalized

“An AIDS-free generation is not something we can create, an AIDS-free generation is something we must empower young people to become and remain” – Charlize Theron (UN General Assembly High level Meeting on Ending AIDS, 2016)

Want to learn more? Follow #EndHIV4Her.

 

Cover Photo Credit: Dominic Chavez/World Bank, Flickr Creative Commons

Zero Tolerance for FGM

This post is written by: Paula Kweskin, Human Rights Attorney and Documentary Filmmaker

Imagine a surgery performed with dirty instruments, without anesthesia, and no doctor. No one dresses your wounds and there are no follow-up appointments. This is not a description of a medieval medical procedure; it is a practice which takes place every six minutes around the world. 140 million girls and women have been affected by female genital mutilation (FGM), the cutting and/or removal of a girl’s genitalia in order to preserve her “honor” or “purity.”

FGM violates several human rights principles, including rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

FGM is not prescribed by any particular religion, and yet it is often advocated by religious and community leaders who believe the removal of a girl’s clitoris is necessary to ensure she marries well, brings honor to her family or clan, preserves her virginity and limits her sexual drive.

FGM is a horrific practice; it should never be excused by culture, religion, or tradition. Though the procedure may take moments, a girl is scarred for the rest of her life. She will likely endure serious physical and emotional trauma, including problems menstruating and urinating, complications during childbirth, and a higher risk of sexually-transmitted diseases.

FGM is primarily practiced in African countries, though women throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia have also been exposed to the practice.

And, while shocking to many, more girls than ever are at risk of the practice in the United States.

A recent report by the Center for Disease Control revealed that at least 500,000 women and girls are at risk of FGM in the United States. This number is up three-fold from a previous study conducted fifteen years prior. Experts attribute this rise to the increase in immigrants to the USA who practice FGM.

As activists and human rights advocates, we must be shocked into action by the half a million women who have undergone – or are at risk of – a barbaric practice in the US, and the hundreds of millions who suffer from it globally.

On this day – the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM – please take a moment to educate yourselves and then share this video with your friends and family. It is a clip about the practice of FGM taken from my documentary film, Honor Diaries. Feel free to check out the full film on Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix.

Let’s educate ourselves and all work together to #endFGM this generation!​​

 

Cover Photo Credit: Fixers, Flickr Creative Commons

Girls’ Globe chats with Femme International!

G

irls’ Globe continues our health series to highlight the work being done to improve women’s, girls’ and adolescent health around the world. Yesterday, we spoke with Femme International‘s Co-Founder, Sabrina Rubli. Femme is one of our featured organizations and works to address unique health and safety needs among women and girls in East Africa. Femme believes all women deserve the opportunity to empower themselves through education and personal health. By providing females with innovative tools and knowledge, we hope to facilitate their ability to overcome gender-specific barriers. If you missed our conversation, you can watch the video below:

Watch our inspiring hangout with Femme International!