Balancing Passion for Education with Family Responsibilities

Education empowers girls with confidence and independence.  It provides girls with a path out of poverty, and it gives girls hope for a better life. Education is a silver bullet for empowering girls.  Education is the ANSWER.

But girls need access to education. The primary barriers preventing girls’ access to education are lack of schools, distance to schools, conflict, hunger and poor nutrition, school fees, disabilities, and gender biases.

Even when girls do have access, they are often pulled out of school to help care for their families. They may be passionate about achieving an education, but they must balance that passion with family responsibilities.

Photo credit: Educational Empowerment

Ja Seng Mai understands this balancing act. She is 19 years old and the eldest of five children, living in Myitkyina, Kachin State, Myanmar.

Even though I want to study and learn different subjects and attend the trainings like my other friends, my mom cannot afford to support all of us. Sometimes I feel angry and complain about my life and think why I can’t be like other people.”

Ja Seng Mai wants to be a good daughter and help her mom and siblings. So she works as a sales girl at the local Padonmar Store. In the evenings and weekends, she studies university courses online. She is now in her third year towards a zoology degree. However, these distance learning programs do not provide sufficient qualifications to obtain professional careers.

Recently, Ja Seng Mai was accepted into an exciting new program – Tech Age Girls (TAG). She is one of 5 girls, aged 16-20, in Myitkyina to be selected to learn digital and leadership skills. During this time Ja Seng Mai will continue her sales job during the weekdays to help support her family.

The program runs for one year. During the first phase of 6 months, girls learn coding and data security skills. At that point, 3 of the girls are selected to move on to Phase 2 to learn online content skills and connect with female mentors. Finally, one girl is selected to advance to Phase 3 to attend basic ICT (information and communication technology) skills training. This finalist then conducts a community project using her newly developed skills.

By 2020, 85-90% of new jobs in Myanmar will require digital skills. Through TAG, Ja Seng Mai is obtaining valuable marketable skills to enable her to obtain a professional job. Her dedication to the pursuit of education is paying off for her.

Ja Seng Mai says, “I feel happy that I can help my mom to earn money.” At the same time, Ja Seng Mai is VERY happy to learn digital skills through the TAG program. She works hard to balance these two important priorities in her life.

ALL girls deserve access to education.

If you want to help to empower girls to achieve their right to education:

  • become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights
  • donate to Educational Empowerment
  • let your voice be heard for girls worldwide!

Educational Empowerment empowers women and girls in SE Asia through education and equal opportunity, with a vision of improving socio-economic opportunity and creating gender parity.

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Girl Child Platform is going to CSW

For the second year in a row the Girl Child Platform is going to the UN:s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. The 61st session of CSW begins on March 13th and continues for two weeks. Representatives from UN member states, UN agencies and nonprofit organizations from all over the world will participate in the sessions.

The theme of this year’s session is “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”. Today the labour market is in many ways unequal. Women often have lower salaries and inferior benefits than men. Men are also more often in power positions than women. However, this year’s theme is also important for young girls and not only adult women. Reports by The Adolescent Girls Advocacy and Leadership Initiative indicate that teenage girls represent the most economically vulnerable group in the world. Above all the problem remains that women and girls do a lot more unpaid work, like taking care of the household and the family. In many cases this workload leads to girls having to leave school, which contributes to the fact that women in many cases can only find unqualified occupations because of their lack of education. Other issues that girls face are labour and sexual exploitation, child marriage and trafficking.

Girls who are given the opportunity to become economically independent increase their chances of becoming independent in other aspects of life as well, such as increased control over one’s own decisions, body and life choices. To make girls aware of the meaning of independence and economic empowerment in early ages enables equality in older ages. Real change in women’s economic empowerment can be achieved only when girls are empowered.

It is therefore vital that the girl perspective is included and represented in discussions on economic empowerment during CSW. We need to create change both for girls in the present and in the future. It is important to listen to girls themselves and not only have adults speak for them. This is a message that the Girl Child Plattform wants to spread during the upcoming session, as girls are experts on issues that concern girls. To do this we will bring with us 17 people from our member organizations who work with the girl-perspective, and spread the material we have collected from our campaign GirlSmart (Tjejkunnig in Swedish), where girls have sent in their thoughts on what needs to change in society for girls. Girls are experts on girls and their voices need to be heard.

Encouraging Girls to Take on the World through Education Centres in India

Offering girls basic education is one sure way of giving them much greater power – of enabling them to make genuine choices over the kinds of lives they wish to lead.

This is not a luxury. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women establish it as a basic human right. So why is it that despite proving to be a blessing to society the girl child is – in the worst case scenario – killed in the womb, or otherwise allowed to breathe but only the air of negligence, discrimination and deprivation?

Today, we’re not only proud of great women of science like Sunita Williams, or women who’ve acted as agents of change like Sarojini Naidu, or  women who’ve taught us what it means to be human like Mother Teresa, but we also encourage such people to come forward and reform our world. Why is it that even though we claim to be the biggest democracy in the world we simply cannot destroy the deep-rooted stereotypes against women, and particularly women’s education?

Azad India Foundation was formed by an idea and the will to make lives of underprivileged girls better. We have set up our organisation in one of the least literate districts in Bihar -with a literacy rate of only 46% – to provide the people of this area with equal opportunities as the rest of the country. Through our work we’ve tried to touch the lives of as many girls as we can and to enable them to take on the world by themselves. We want them to be independent, able to break the constraints of society, and be themselves.

Through Azad India Foundation we spread a message of love, equality and empowerment. We realise that even today, little girls are denied an education, potential members of the female workforce are denied a job and employed women are denied recognition.

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Photo Credit: Azad India Foundation 

We seek to bring about change through our Girl Child Learning Centres. This program was started in 2010 with the support of IIMPACT Gurgaon under the guidance of Mrs Yuman Hussain. The focus of the program is to bring back non-schoolgoing girls and dropouts aged between 6-14 from the most remote villages in the district to the folds of education and it’s aim is to act as a bridge between nonformal educaton and government schooling.

We are currently working in over 35 villages in Kishanganj district with about 1050 girls. We provide primary education and health and hygiene classes to these girls and then we mainstream them to the formal schools. Our teaching is done through play-way methods and teachers use visual aids and teaching learning materials including bamboo sticks, small pebbles, cards, chart papers and pictures. The students also contribute to making the teaching learning materials and other crafts in the classroom.

We conduct regular competency level tests at our Learning Centers where the knowledge levels of the students are assessed through written and oral tests. This helps in assessing the weak students and giving them remedial classes.

The teachers are women from the same communities as the girls themselves. We decided to hire these women because only they can understand the hardships many of the girls they teach are going through. The teachers are given regular training sessions and are made to attend workshops at regular intervals for their own development. We now have a team of excellent teachers who are determined to provide quality education to these girls. After seeing the determination of the girls to learn we decided to open around 20 libraries with age appropriate books to provide them with more reading material. We want nothing to hold them back and have done everything in our capacity to bring a smile to their faces.

The force which drives us to make efforts to improve the lives of these girls? It is the happiness we see on their faces. Their success make us feel proud of being associated with them.

A Beginner’s Guide to Stopping Time

This piece was written by Julia Z. – a high school student from the United States of America. All opinions are her own.

We hear our grandparents say it. Preach it. Sitting around a crackling fire surrounded by family. Those wise with age warn those who listen eagerly – live while you’re young, enjoy every moment, time moves so fast. We hear the poets telling us to seize the day. Time is an enigmatic topic that attracts scholars, academics, and even inexperienced teenagers like myself. Is it possible that when people tell us to seize the day, they really are warning us to retain our innocence for as long as the universe will allow?

Innocence is lost when the weight of the world is suddenly shifted onto the shoulders of an unsuspecting child. Burden, struggle, and responsibility are what make you transform from an innocent child to an adult who wears stress on his or her face like a child wears a smile.

What I am describing hit me on a recent trip to Ethiopia. Accompanying my aunt, who works on adolescent girls programming with the International Rescue Committee and is the Co-Chair of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls, I received the chance to observe first-hand what humanitarians do. More importantly, I experienced how their work impacts girls. I had the chance to observe a program called Girl Empower, which is true to its name. This program educates in order to empower girls. It includes training mentors who teach a curriculum about a woman’s health, her body, and her choices. This program opens discussions about topics that previously were difficult for girls to discuss: menstruation, gender-based violence, and harmful traditional practices. I was there for the girls’ graduation from this program, and it was amazing to see their emotion, their passion, and their happiness. By providing a safe space for girls to be girls, the program gave these girls something incredibly precious: time

Girl Empower stopped time, something physicists and cosmologists have been trying to figure out for centuries. Girls who were supposed to be married by age 15 were now equipped to be able to have safe, informed conversations with their parents and to make their own decisions. Their parents, who had been through a 10-12 month curriculum and participated in discussions about empowering their daughters, claimed they now knew about the negative effects of early marriage, such as dropping out of school, giving birth too young, and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Whether or not this enlightenment will spread to future generations or even the girls in the town who were not part of the program, I don’t know. Sustainability of humanitarian programs in general is not guaranteed, but IRC is working diligently to build capacity of the community and support community ownership of the program, not just for the participants but also for future generations of girls.  Will these positive affirmations and lessons spread to others and continue spreading? Only the community can assure that.

The reason this program is impressive to me is not the long-term effects, but the brief intervention of the rapid maturing of these girls. For the year or so these girls are in the program they get a chance to breathe. They won’t marry early during this program (as parents agreed upon). So they are not somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s cook, somebody’s water fetcher. During this program they are just girls being educated, discussing difficult topics more openly, and learning about themselves and their potential. Their innocence is preserved, they understand what it means to be their own person, and they are not forced to grow up as fast as they would have otherwise.

There is hope that the lessons these girls learned about protecting themselves emotionally and physically will carry on beyond the life of the project. The power of knowledge, enlightenment, and time to think should not be underestimated. I hope that independently these girls will take what they learned and use it to empower their sisters, friends, and, eventually, daughters. Knowledge is cyclical; it can flow from generation to generation, and over time the community as a whole will benefit. Education radiates outwards from one source and can change the lives of many. The girls lucky enough to participate in this program can take what they have learned and educate others. Maybe, just as IRC did for them, these girls can stall the rapid maturing of other girls in their community. The future is female and one empowered girl can have a greater impact than you might think.

Photo Credit: Noah Silliman