I’m very excited about International Day of the Girl because this year, I am spending the day working at an organization fighting to ensure that all girls have access to free, safe and quality education. The more time I spend working in this environment, the more inspirational girls’ stories I have the chance to hear.
Girls all over the world are dedicating their lives to stopping climate change, fighting for gender equality and human rights, reducing poverty and increasing access to education and healthcare.
In the United States, Mari Copeni – also known as Little Miss Flint– is fighting for her community’s right to clean water by putting an end to the Flint Water Crisis. Zuriel Oduwole, a girls’ education advocate, is using documentary film and public speaking to highlight the importance of access to technology for gender equality in education.
In Nicaragua, Edelsin Linette Mendez is raising awareness about the crippling effects of climate change, especially when it comes to coffee crops in her home. In Indonesia, Melati and Isabel Wijsen launched Bye Bye Plastic Bags in October 2013 to stop the use, sale and production of single-use plastic bags.
In Ecuador, Nina Gualinga is fighting for indigenous peoples’ rights. In Argentina, teenage girls are fighting for their sexual and reproductive rights like access to birth control, quality sexual education and free, legal and safe abortions. In Mexico, young women are taking action against street harassment.
The fact that these girls are making such a huge impact in their communities proves that when girls are educated and empowered they can change the world.
In my case, I’m lucky to have a younger sister who brightens my life every day. She is always there to lift me up when I’m bringing myself down. She is always protecting and defending her loved ones, especially those who can’t defend themselves. I will always admire her unique artistic talent (she created the illustration for this blog post!), her selflessness and her bravery. I love how comfortable she is in her own skin. She makes my life so much better just by being a part of it. So today I want to celebrate her and all the girls who make us smile every day.
I hope today you take some time to celebrate the girls in your life. Remind them that you are there for them. Make sure they know you will support them as they chase their dreams and fight for what they believe in.
With nearly 1 billion girls on the planet and 600 million adolescent girls entering the workforce in the next 10 years, enabling girls to be active participants in the global economy is vital – for those girls, their families, and their countries.
Supporting girls in becoming economic agents is important not only because girls should be treated equally and fairly, but also because girls’ participation in the world of work is of structural importance for the global economy.
The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl, With Her: A Skilled GirlForce, speaks to the importance of a global conversation on this issue.
So how do we prepare girls to be contributing members of the global economy, prepared to join the worldwide workforce? One much discussed answer is by completing primary and secondary education. With 131 million girls currently out of school, we still have a long way to go to accomplish this goal. But there’s another important foundation that can help empower girls financially and economically.
WomenStrong International believes the key to a skilled ‘GirlForce’ is by building girls’ ‘protective assets’, a term coined by the Population Council to describe the most important skills, resources, and knowledge girls need to protect themselves and thrive.
Girls’ ‘protective assets’ include having a trusted adult to turn to in times of crisis, knowing how to access contraception, being skilled at communicating with elders, and understanding how to manage money.
When girls have these essential skills and awareness, they are able to advocate for themselves, express their opinions and desires, seek support and help, and have the self-esteem and confidence needed not only to dream big, but also to follow those dreams. These basic skills are a foundation on which girls can then learn any technical skills they may need to enter the workforce and make the best decisions for their own financial futures.
Without vital life skills, girls may be subject to discrimination or exploitation in the workplace, or may not be allowed to work at all.
For example, if a girl’s father tells her she cannot sell popsicles after school to earn money for school supplies, she can use her conflict management and communication skills to have a respectful discussion with him. Another girl may begin work as a waitress but is sexually harassed by her boss – she knows his behavior is inappropriate because of her understanding of human rights, so she can report this behavior to the appropriate person at the restaurant or managing company.
An effective approach to teaching these life skills is in safe spaces for girls, such as Girls’ Clubs. WomenStrong consortium members in Ghana, Kenya, India, and Haiti run Girls’ Clubs for more than 9,000 girls. Clubs teach girls about financial literacy, sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence, communication and relationship-building skills, goal-setting, self-esteem, and much more.
In early 2019, WomenStrong will release Strong Girls Make Strong Women: A Practical Handbook for Creating and Leading a Girls’ Club. The handbook compiles best practices from our Clubs and other experts, including a 16-chapter curriculum covering the most important topics girls need to know.
Crucially, the sisterhood formed among Club members serves as a valuable protective asset for the girls, because they have a community with whom they can share their successes and challenges, peers to turn to when they need support or are in crisis, and a community of friends who will encourage them to pursue their goals. This social aspect of the Girls’ Club is every bit as important as the skills learned.
Equipping girls through Girls’ Clubs with soft skills and a social network enhances their economic wellbeing and helps girls avoid or deal effectively with situations that might otherwise derail them from their goals and dreams.
But what do life skills have to do with helping girls transition into the world of work?
Take Nancy, who lives in the peri-urban community of Krobo, outside of Kumasi, Ghana. Nancy became pregnant in the first year of junior high, at age 15. Faced with uncertainty about her pregnancy and her financial future, Nancy dropped out of school. Fortunately, Nancy was a member of a Women’s Health to Wealth (WHW) Girls’ Club, supported by WomenStrong.
Club members and the Club facilitator noticed she was absent from school for several weeks and reached out to her. Learning of her pregnancy, WHW helped Nancy return to school to finish her basic education. Her social safety net, the Girls’ Club, helped her get back on track.
Equipped with the skills from the Girls’ Club and from her basic education, Nancy then went on, with WHW’s support, to study jewelry-making and now runs a successful bead-making business that supports her three-year-old child and employs two other teen mothers. Nancy’s life skills education and Girls’ Club membership enabled her to become a thriving member of her local economy, benefiting herself, her family, and other young women in Krobo.
As we, the global community, look ahead to how 600 million adolescent girls can be best prepared to join the world of work, we must remember to build girls’ foundation of life skills.
Empowered with the knowledge of how to manage a budget, advocate for oneself, and respectfully manage conflict and debate (just a few life skills girls need to know), girls are then free to pursue their careers of choice and to be thriving members of the global economy, benefiting themselves and creating ripples of benefits that can improve the lives of those around them.
The Caribbean, known for its white sandy beaches, clear waters and vibrant culture is also home to the second highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world – second to Sub-Saharan Africa. The highest rates of adolescent pregnancy within the Caribbean are found in the Dominican Republic and Guyana.
When a girl becomes pregnant she faces many challenges, such as being kicked out of school, ostracism from family and friends, lack of support from the father of the child(ren), and lack of access to continuing her education.
These challenges lead to a cycle of intergenerational poverty, unemployment and gender based violence.
Despite a societal culture that does not encourage adolescent mothers returning to school, strides have been made to ensure that they have the opportunity to continue and complete their education. Specifically, in Jamaica, multi-sectoral approaches have led to the establishment and implementation of the Policy for the Reintegration of School Aged Mothers into the Formal School System, which mandates that adolescent mothers be allowed to return to school after having their child.
To date, approximately 2,850 adolescent mothers have been reintegrated into the formal school system. Jamaica is the first Caribbean island to have such a policy, while the implementation of Guyana’s reintegration policy is currently underway.
There have also been advances in supporting adolescent mothers through programming. Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and St. Kitts and Nevis are a few of the Caribbean countries that have programs or organizations dedicated to advancing the health and rights of adolescent mothers.
In Jamaica, the Women’s Centre Jamaica Foundation is promoting a new approach to problems associated with teenage pregnancy, especially in the area of interrupted education. Women Across Differences in Guyana implements the Empowerment Programme to provide a safe and friendly learning environment for mothers to acquire sexual & reproductive health information and services , as well as life skills to create a better life for themselves and their children.
The Adolescent Mothers Programme (Trinidad and Tobago) and Project Viola (St. Kitts and Nevis) are programs established through collaborative efforts of ministries and community-based organizations. Both provide a wide range of support such as counseling, career development, parenting courses and skills training.
As a native of Jamaica and the founder of Pearls of Potential – an organization providing support and services to adolescent mothers in the developing world – I am proud of the work that has been done in the Caribbean in supporting adolescent mothers.
Caribbean leaders must understand the importance of educating adolescent mothers. They must also establish and strengthen resources and policies that will support the completion of their education.
It is important for governing bodies such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States to create agendas that include goals in support of adolescent mothers and ensure that these goals align with the Sustainable Development Goals. The continued tangible support of international non-governmental organizations such as UNFPA, UNICEF and UNESCO is also paramount to the sustainability of current programs.
On this International Day of Girl, with the theme With Her: A Skilled GirlForce, we must make a commitment to ensure that adolescent mothers have the opportunity to continue and complete their education, which will give them a chance to gain skills for employment, provide for their child(ren) and contribute to a growing society.
We must remember that when we invest in our girls, we invest in our future.
This year, International Day of the Girl is focused on the empowerment of girls in crisis situations. According to UNICEF, approximately 535 million children worldwide were living in countries affected by conflict, natural disasters, epidemics, and other emergencies last year. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one such country.
DRC is located in the Great Lakes region of Africa and home to breathtaking scenery and vibrant people. Although civil war here officially ended in 2003, conflict between government forces and various armed groups has persisted and remains ongoing in certain regions. DRC is rich in natural resources, but it remains mostly poor in terms of infrastructure and economic opportunity for its citizens. Women and girls, in particular, face enormous challenges just to survive and provide for themselves and their families.
The health system in DRC is weak and unable to fully meet the primary health needs of the population, including sexual, reproductive, and maternal health needs. Tens of thousands of Congolese women and girls die each year from pregnancy and childbirth – many are only teenagers.
Adolescents and young people in DRC often find it difficult or impossible to access health care. Information and services related to sex and reproductive health (SRH) are especially hard to find due to cultural norms and expectations (such as abstinence before marriage) that prohibit young people from seeking them out. If a young person does manage to reach a health clinic or provider, it is not uncommon for them to be denied care because of their age or even shamed for seeking it out.
“Why do you need condoms? You’re too young to be having sex! Go home!”
Of course, teenage girls and boys in DRC (and around the world) are having sex whether or not adults approve. And without knowledge of sexual health or access to contraceptives, girls are accidentally getting pregnant. Girls like Claudine.
Claudine is 19 years old and lives in Goma, the bustling capital of the North Kivu province of DRC. Not knowing how to protect herself, she became pregnant and gave birth to a child at age 17. She has returned to school and is studying social sciences at the Uzima Institute.
Fortunately, SRH information and services are becoming more available to Goma teenagers through Vijana Juu (translates to ‘Stand Up for Youth’), a project implemented by CARE DRC and funded by the UK Department for International Development. Adolescents and young people partnered with CARE staff to identify barriers to accessing and using contraception, brainstormed solutions, and worked with community leaders and health administrators to change the situation.
They recognized that their peers did not feel comfortable going to local health centers because they might run into judgmental adults, so certain clinics responded by setting up discreet side entrances available to youth only and created adolescent-specific referral cards to improve access to health services. Open meeting spaces designed by young people were established next to health centers where adolescents could come to talk with their peers about issues related to SRH in a relaxed environment that belongs to them, and teenagers could volunteer to be trained as peer leaders, providing information and referrals to their friends and neighbors.
CARE is helping to train health providers to recognize and challenge their own values and biases toward teenage sex that could discourage youth from seeking services. CARE is also supporting health facilities to provide a full range of contraceptive options and reproductive health services to adolescent girls and young women.
Over 6000 adolescents received sexual and reproductive health counseling and services through this program, and many began using contraception for the first time. About 30% of these new contraceptive users are girls, and 65% of them selected a highly effective, long-acting and reversible method (implant or IUD).
After her child was born, Claudine visited one of the Vijana Juu youth-friendly health clinics for an IUD so she could finish school without the risk of getting pregnant again. She has become a vocal advocate for safe sex in her community, and advises her friends to use contraception. When we asked why, she explained:
“Girls my age forget that sex can lead to harmful consequences like unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, abortions, and even death. Young people need to be informed. Adolescent girls and boys have a right to sexual health to make a better future and realize their dreams.”
Today, October 11th, marks the sixth International Day of the Girl Child, celebrated around the world to bring attention to the rights and well-being of girls. Every year, a global theme is set for the Day by UNICEF – and this year, that theme is “Girls’ Progress = Goals Progress: What Counts for Girls”.
The theme continues a recent global focus and emphasis on the importance of better gender data, especially with tracking the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals. Earlier this year at the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen, Melinda Gates pledged $80 million over the next three years from the Gates Foundation towards closing the gender data gap and accelerating progress for girls and women around the world. A new multi-partner coalition was formed, with organizations like Plan International, Women Deliver, International Women’s Health Coalition, KPMG and ONE Campaign to particularly track and drive progress on the gender targets of the SDGs. The newly released latest report on Plan International’s Because I am a Girl series, titled “Counting the Invisible”, explains how improving the data and information on girls is essential in our quest to secure their rights and build a more gender equal and just world.
Without data, we don’t know where the biggest gaps and needs are. We can’t identify the most marginalized and most vulnerable if we can’t see them. We can’t efficiently focus and prioritize our resources – and perhaps most importantly, we cannot track if what we are doing is making a difference and working. To ensure that we are indeed delivering on the SDGs to those most in need – especially girls – we have to have data. And we need that data to equally represent the lives and situations of all genders.
But that is not all we need data for. Numbers have another function as well:
They tell stories.
Data is not just numbers, charts and figures – it explains the world to us. Numbers turn into narratives, charts convert to compelling accounts of realities and lives of people around the world. We need data – better data – to convince others that what we are doing is important and makes a difference. We need numbers to convey us facts like:
The number one cause of death for girls 15-19: Suicide
These kinds of numbers paint a powerful and sad story of a world in which girls’ basic rights to survival, health, education and life free of violence are violated every minute of every day. In this world, girls are not valued as full human beings, equal to their male peers. Girls are mistreated and abused, discriminated and overlooked, forgotten, brushed aside.
But numbers can tell a different side of this story as well:
Numbers can tell us a story of a world that does better when girls and women do better. Numbers tell us that girls who get to grow up healthy and be educated grow up to be women who make a difference in the lives of others. Data shows us that investing in girls is not only the moral imperative and our global responsibility – but is also perhaps the smartest move we can make for development and progress. Numbers tell us that if there ever was a silver bullet to a better future, it most likely is the Girl Child.
This is why we need better gender data. We need it to know that we are focusing our efforts on the rights things, and also doing things right – but we also need numbers and data to paint a picture of a world, the way it is now and the way it could be.
Do you see it? Do you see what the world could be, if girls’ rights were truly protected and realized?
We see it. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful world.
On this Day of the Girl, Girls’ Globe is launching a campaign to focus on stories told by data. We will continue to share stories and narratives of the lives of girls and women around the world, as conveyed by the data we have available now. With a solutions-based focus, we to bring you stories of girls from around the world to help you also see the future we could build by investing in girls and women and ensuring that tomorrow’s world is truly a gender equal world for everyone.
Illustration by illustrator, artist and educator Elina Tuomi.
On a brisk Sunday afternoon, I sat down with two true human rights advocates. These two women shared countless reasonswhy educating children particularly girls was important to the recovery and betterment of a nation. And why girls need quality education just as much as they need basic necessities even in volatile areas. Annette Scarpitta, Program Founder and Director of Rwenena Kids and Solange Nyamulisa, Communications Specialist at the UN, talked for hours about the countless reasons why we need to pay closer attention to the affects of conflicts on girls and women.
I have never experienced the trauma of war, so I can only imagine the level of dysfunction in a country ravaged by a 20 year conflict. I asked Solange to explain to me exactly what was occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo and she told me about the various rebel groups vying for power and wreaking havoc throughout the eastern portion of the country. But more importantly, she explained how a prolonged conflict tears the community and economy apart and leaves women and girls extremely vulnerable even when they are seeking refuge. She explained that the idea of sending a girl to school is an afterthought because girls are considered part of their husbands’ future family; thus, they are less likely to contribute to their parents’ household once they are married. As she talked, I tried to wrap my head around this idea. What if my mom told me:
Your hopes, ambitions and dreams are worthless; you were just placed on this earth to get married and be a mother. Besides that, you have no identity, no voice and nothing to contribute.
Would I be where I am today, if I had been told that my entire life? Probably not. When you strip someone of their ability to hope and grow as a person you slowly destroy that person. So how can you rebuild a nation, if such a large portion of its population is being mentally, physically and spiritually violated? On this International Day of the Girl, Annette asks that you remember the forgotten ones. Remember the ones that live in such a remote portion of the country that their town (Rewenena, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo) is often missing from the maps. Remember the girl that knocked on the door of the school until she too could have a seat at the table. Conflicts don’t just impact the political, economic and social structures within nations they also impact communities, families and children for generations. On this International Day of the Girl speak up for the girls whose voices are muted.