Girl4ce: Developing Lesotho’s Leaders of Tomorrow

Photo Credit: Help Lesotho
Photo Credit: Help Lesotho

Thirty-five preteen girls sit in a semi-circle as a grade 12 girl answers their questions on rape. The room goes silent as one girl asks, “Why do men rape?”

The facilitator takes a deep breath and says, “Many men lack sexual health education and women are regarded as weak and subordinate in Lesotho, so men believe they have all the power to make decisions.”

The young girls belong to Girl4ce, a program aimed at empowering and educating vulnerable village girls in rural Lesotho. The program is led by high school aged girls trained by Help Lesotho to be leaders in their communities.

The facilitator follows up by asking, “What does a healthy romantic relationship look like?” The girls offer words like, “trust”, “loving”, “honest”, “compassion”, and “communication”.

Girl4ce was created to empower girls with knowledge to fight for gender equity in Lesotho. The facilitators don’t sugar coat the grim reality faced by many Basotho women and girls; they speak openly about oral sex, condoms, non-consensual sexual relations and how to report rape.

“What is consent?” one facilitator asked the group and a small girl no older than 12 stood up to answer, “An agreement between two people.”

The US Department of State reports that violence against women is common in Lesotho. In 2008, there were 1300 reported cases of rapes and 7700 reported cases of domestic violence. According to UNICEF, in Lesotho 54.2 % of adolescent males believe wife beating is justified, while USAID found that 48% of men find domestic violence toward women acceptable.

Fortunately, the girls leave the program equipped with awareness about the overwhelming gender-based violence in Lesotho. They are encouraged to stand up and speak out about these social injustices. For example, the facilitators urged the girls to speak to someone they trust if they experience sexual violence or report the offense directly to the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU), which can be found in each of Lesotho’s ten districts.

Rape Culture in Lesotho

Cultural attitudes that condone and excuse violence against women are common and accelerate rape culture in Lesotho. The following are widespread attitudes regarding a woman’s status in society:

It is commonly believed that having sex with a virgin cures HIV/AIDS. This belief leads to the rape of young girls and babies.

Another common cultural practice is the village “sugar daddy”. Men offer rides, clothes or cash to impoverished school girls, who often accept the offering willingly. After establishing the relationship, the sugar daddy shames the girl into providing sexual compensation in exchange for his “generosity”.

Young village girls in rural Lesotho, leave their homes in the mountains with the promise of work as maids or childcare givers, but are instead sold into sex trafficking in South Africa.

The Sexual Offenses Act of 2003 prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and mandates a minimum sentence of five years in prison, with no option for a fine. But there is no specific legislation prohibiting domestic violence or sexual harassment. There are provisions under common law and customary law for general assaults.

One Girl at a Time

Gender inequity is deeply rooted in Lesotho. Help Lesotho focuses on changing the lives and attitudes of one person at a time, through education, leadership development and psychosocial support.

Girl4ce prepares young girls for the challenges they will face in high school, such as peer pressure, teen pregnancy, HIV and gender-based violence. “Because of the love we try to show them, they open up and we can give advice and guidance to them. The main objective is to pass much needed life skills to younger girls,” said one of the program facilitators.

Learn more about Help Lesotho and the various ways to support their work in Lesotho. 

Growing Dreams: Help Educate Girls In Myanmar

Here in the United States, ask a girl what she wants to be when she grows up and her answer may be nurse, teacher, astronaut, senator or even president. The possibilities are limitless.  In Myanmar, a country steeped in extreme poverty, where people lack even the most basic human rights, you will hear no such answer. Girls in Myanmar typically imagine a job that takes them no further than the family farm or the local fish market.

Why the disparity?

In addition to the oppressive government, ongoing conflicts, natural disasters and displacement that have plagued the country, education is simply not attainable for many – most of all girls.

Only half of Burmese girls complete primary education.  For most, the quality of the education is inadequate and typically based on rote memorization.  One in every four girls who has attended primary school is still unable to read simple sentences about everyday life.

Although government schools are free, parents still need to pay for uniforms, supplies, and in some cases bribes to teachers to ensure their children receive attention.

When parents choose which child they can afford to educate, it is always the boys.  Girls, victims of gender disparity, are pulled out of school to work.

Girls who are educated dream big.  Education opens up endless opportunities. Education builds girls’ dreams and transforms lives.

Educational Empowerment helps ensure Burmese girls realize their dreams.

Some girls, unable to afford government schools, attend schools established in Buddhist monasteries – schools which truly are free. Many girls in these schools have been sent by their families from remote ethnic areas to be educated and safe. These girls, often as young as 4, must cope with the trauma of family separation.

One of these schools, located in a poor township outside Yangon, is Maw Kyun, attended by 582 children, half of whom are girls. These girls are learning critical thinking skills, which give them the ability to identify and solve problems.  Since their township does not  have electricity or fresh water, solving problems is essential to their existence.

Photo Credit: Edu Empowerment
Photo Credit: Edu Empowerment

Wint Yi, like 25% of other girls in Myanmar, lives below the poverty line, with a family income of less than $1.25 per day. Fifty percent of her peers will only go to school through the fifth grade.

Unlike, many other girls, Wint Yi has a dream. She knows there is a world beyond her village.  She goes to a school supported by Educational Empowerment.  Wint Yi is one of the fortunate girls in Myanmar.

Girls’ access to quality education should be a basic human right.  Investing in girls’ education bolsters their dignity, saves mother’s and children’s lives, and improves the socio-economic status of the entire community.

Help girls attain their right to education.  Empower others, like Wint Yi, to dream BIG.

Want to take action?

  • Donate to Educational Empowerment
  • Organize an event for International Day of the Girl, October 11th, to create awareness for girls’ right to education
  • Let your voices be heard for girls worldwide!

Meet Wint Yi


 

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org

Follow @EEmpower, on FacebookInstagram

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

Global Action Week

May 4th-11th is Global Action Week. Global Action Week is an international focal point for education with events taking place in over 100 countries highlighting the importance of education for all. With this week, GCE chapters around the world work to raise awareness and create political will through advocacy to ensure that all children around the world have access to education. This year’s global theme is Equal Right, Equal Opportunity focusing on education and children with disabilities.

Globally, there are nearly 66 million girls out of school. Advocacy is a critical component to advancing the global conversation for girls’ education. To celebrate Global Action Week, we are partnering with the Global Campaign for Education, United States Chapter to highlight the importance of education for girls.

Join the Global Conversation!

#GirlsDreamBig Twitter Chat

Google + Hangout, Passion to Action: Girls Lead for Education

How are you advocating for girls’ education?

Tweet us this week @GirlsGlobe

 

Cover Photo Credit: One Laptop per Child, Flickr Creative Commons