In Conversation with Christine Sayo

Christine Sayo is a sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate from Kenya. In this conversation with Girls’ Globe, she talks about feeling judged by others for simply talking openly about issues related to sex.

“The community looks at you as a deviant, as someone who is going against the norm.”

The good news, though, is that Christine is seeing a shift in attitudes thanks to globalization and increased access to information from different channels.

“Having information coming in from different sources has helped to destigmatize some of these issues around sexual and reproductive health in young people.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org in support of women’s advocacy messages.

If you liked this post, we think you’ll love our interviews with KingaWinfredScarlett, Natasha, Tasneem and Beverly, too!

Meet SafePal: an app designed by young Ugandans

SafePal is a true testimony to young people’s ability to find solutions to their challenges – as long as they can access the required resources. A group of innovators, Emmanuel Kateregga, Joshua Okello, Racheal Monica Achen  Gitta Brian, Jingo Kisakye and Nurah Shariff Nantume looked critically at the fact that young people are the most tech savvy Ugandans, but also the ones most exposed to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) challenges.

Their creative young minds were quick to pose a problem-solving question: what if this tech awareness was employed to solve the challenges? Today they are being commended nationwide for an invention that could quickly and easily address the issue of sexual violence reporting among young people in Uganda.

In a situation where a person has fallen victim to sexual violence, they often need a friend to act as a safe haven for them, and that is exactly what SafePal is designed to be. It’s that friend you can talk to without any fear of being judged or misunderstood, and with certainty that they would help you. SafePal has a mobile and a web portal, and works as a reporting and referral platform for young survivors of sexual violence.

Racheal, Nurah and Emmanuel are products of Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU)’s Peer Educators Academy. Racheal was a member of the 2014 class while Nurah and Emmanuel graduated a year later. They all took part in the #Hack4Youth Hackathon, organised by UNFPA Uganda and Reach A Hand Uganda In Collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MiT) and Sana Mobile in 2015.

“At the Hackathon, we were tasked to identify an SRHR challenge and come up with a technology solution to address  it. We zeroed down on problem of sexual violence against young people and initially thought of a game, but we wound up with a reporting app,” Nurah said.

The SafePal app boasts of a database of health centres and other service providers able to provide immediate medical aid for victims of sexual violence, as well as psychosocial and legal support through a range of civil society organizations (CSOs). Once opened, the app sends the user messages about why and how they should report sexual violence against themselves or a friend.

“We also figured that some people may not be able to report cases themselves but their friends could. So we provided an option for reporting for someone else,” Nurah noted.

As such, anyone with the app can report a sexual violence situation as soon as they hear of one. After following the prompts, the reporter gets a code that works as a reference when they reach a civil society organization.

“The code helps us promote confidentiality. We wouldn’t want names of the victims or numbers of reporters to appear,” said Joshua Okello, the Technical Development Lead of the team.

With the app, the reporter can be found through a GPS location reference that is sent to the most appropriate CSO. It further eases the reporting process by providing the reporter with contacts for all the CSOs they can call if they have phone credit, and a toll-free number in case they don’t have credit at the time they need to report the incident.  

The challenge is ensuring access to SafePal in hard to reach areas; for young people with no mobile phones or in places of low internet connectivity. To this issue, Emmanuel refers to their prospective partnership with UNICEF:

“UNICEF has Digital Drums, which are solar charged computers that are deployed in community settings and used to distribute information in low connectivity areas to young users. We want to integrate our web portal into those drums so the young people can report from those computers.” 

The SafePal Portal was launched on Friday 7th July 2017 at Makerere University, Kampala. The team is now looking at how the app can be marketed, and are focusing on working with selected schools and churches.

SafePal is the first of its kind. The team looks forward to spreading its wings to other parts of the country in the near future, and eventually the rest of the world. For now, the focus is on making it work in Kampala.

According to the Uganda Police Crime Report of 2014, an approximated 32,000 cases of sexual violence happen in Uganda each year. Of these, about 7,000 are reported and yet the victims are not referred – for two main reasons: fear of speaking out and fear of discrimination. With an app like SafePal, these numbers could soon be a thing of the past.

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 being the ‘wrong’ gender.

Even when girls have access, they are 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. Ja Seng Mai, 19 years old, is 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). TAG is being implemented in Myanmar by IREX in partnership with Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation. Ja Seng Mai is one of 5 girls, ages 16-20, in Myitkyina to be selected to learn digital skills 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. Ja Seng Mai is obtaining valuable marketable skills to enable her to obtain a professional job. Her dedication to a 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 empower girls to achieve their right to education:

  • join Girls Globe conversations on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights
  • donate to Educational Empowerment, and
  • let your voice be heard for girls worldwide!

EE 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 @EEmpower, and on Instagram.

A Smart Thing To Do: Data on Women in Higher Education & STEM

“When we talk about improving women’s lives, education is an issue that comes up over and over again as an equalizer, because when women and girls have access to an education, they can accomplish anything.” – United State of Women

But do all forms of education create equity where gender disparities are greatest? Although we need to work toward improving women’s and girls’ access to education on all levels, real disparities deepen in secondary and higher education environments around the world. Significant progress has been made as 2/3 of developing nations have achieved gender parity when it comes to access to primary education. Despite significant progress made on girls’ school enrollment in the past decade, 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in developing countries. The situation is worst for the poorest rural girls in South and West Asia: only 13% complete lower secondary school.

If we agree with UNICEF that educating girls is “both an intrinsic right and a critical lever to reaching other development objectives,” then advocating for a higher output of female university graduates and an equal presence of women in STEM fields should ultimately be the goal. So, why are so few women completing secondary and higher education studies and why are so few represented in STEM fields?

Adolescent girls attending secondary school, who would continue on with higher education, face many disrupting economic and social demands. This includes everything from household responsibilities, child labor, child marriage, caring for children, gender-based violence, and FGM. Challenges of marital and family obligations in secondary education years truly hinders young women’s opportunities to continue education at universities or in STEM fields. Recent estimates show that 1/3 of girls in the developing world are married before 18 and 1/3 give birth before age 20. Yet higher and secondary education helps prevent these issues: if all girls received a secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would drop by 64% from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.

In countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, formal or written threats to close girls’ schools have fueled gender motivated school attacks. In similar places, millions of young women often face verbal, physical, and sexual harassment should they aspire to study at higher learning institutions. Even those that don’t face direct physical threats are often hindered by deep social stigmas associated with women pursuing higher education. Universities in Africa continue to be male-dominated and women, especially those from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have a very low presence in these institutions.

Despite all these challenges, we know that secondary and higher education for women is:

  1. Lifesaving – If all women had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, saving 3 million lives.
  2. Healthy – If all women had a secondary education, 12 million children would be saved from stunting from malnutrition.
  3. Safe – Almost 60% fewer girls would become pregnant under 17 years in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia if they all had a secondary education.
  4. Profitable – Education narrows pay gaps between men and women. In Pakistan, women with a primary education earn only 51% what men earn, but with a secondary education, they earn 70% what men earn. In Jordan, women with a primary education earn 53% what men earn, but with a secondary education, they earn 67% what men earn. More money in the hands of female workers, especially through careers in higher paying STEM fields, boosts economies and would bolster GDPs.

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The Obama Administration supports more opportunities for girls in STEM fields. Here President Barack Obama is seen with young girls participating in a coding event.

In places like the United States and the EU – women are earning more secondary education certificates and college degrees than men. But despite progress, “women still occupy only 28% of STEM jobs and comprise just 37% of STEM college graduates” in the States. Numbers of women studying STEM fields peaked in early 2000s and now we have seen a decrease in many fields since 1991. For example, women made up 30% of US computer science bachelor degrees in 1991 and in 2011 only made up 17% of computer science graduates.

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In the EU, there are more women in STEM fields, but that doesn’t mean we have actually been able to remove the disparity there – just as many men are entering those fields of study and the gender gap has remained constant.

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“But what’s the point of girls overcoming so many barriers to get to school if they don’t learn anything?”
– Malala Yousafzai

If we are going to work hard for girls to be in school, then let’s work to assure that they are receiving a quality education that includes secondary and tertiary studies. Let’s be sure education allows girls to feel empowered to choose whatever fields most interest them and equips them to be active in all sectors to bring about change. Our pride in global efforts to reach girls with primary school needs to be overcome as we work to build women as leaders. Anything short of a full education, means disparities will still exist if women cannot be equipped to be considered equally educated and capable to lead alongside men.

“The problem of access lies at all levels, and perhaps is often ignored at the highest levels where we desperately need women doctors, scholars, engineers, scientists and thinkers.”
– Muhammad H. Zaman 

Without higher education, women will continue to be under-represented in leadership roles in society and decision making in all sectors. UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, who launched the HeForShe movement said, “A good university is like a tiny utopia – it’s a miniature model of how the whole of society could look.” Change starts in higher education and with it women can have equal roles in business meetings, political cabinets, and research and design firms.

UN Women's HeForShe Campaign Special Event
Actress Emma Watson for the United Nations’ HeForShe campaign. Photo: UN Women.

Ultimately, pursuing higher education should never solely be about career. If it is only about career opportunities then we should clearly make vocational paths available to women and champion both sexes having equity in each. But if it is about opportunity, creativity, about including women in the processes of government, leadership, and any career field, then we need to champion higher education as a whole. Letting girls be smart, is a smart thing to do.

The percentages in the illustration refer to to following numbers and statistics:

  • If all girls had secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would fall by 64%, from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.
  • Although good progress has been made on girls’ school enrollment in the past decade, in developing countries 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school. The situation for the poorest rural girls is dire: only 13% of the poorest rural adolescent girls in South and West Asia complete lower secondary school.
  • Almost 60% fewer girls would become pregnant under 17 years in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia if they all had a secondary education.
  • In the EU-28, of all university graduates in engineering, manufacturing and construction-related studies (second most common types of degrees in the EU), only 3.9% are female.
  • 12% of women in higher education are in in sciences and engineering vs. 24% of men. (http://www.lacs.ps/documentsShow.aspx?ATT_ID=7778 UN Women)
  • Numbers of women in STEM fields peaked in early 2000s and now we have seen a decrease in every field since 1991. For example, women made up 30% of computer science bachelor degrees in 1991 and in 2011 only make up 17% of computer science graduates.

Featured Illustration: Elina Tuomi