Today is International Day of the Girl. It’s a day, recognized and decreed by the UN body, in response to growing problem all around the world; the neglect and devaluation of girls around the world. It’s core to what we are doing here in Niger with this school and in many of our others team programs in the country, and is a passion in our hearts as well. My hearts joy is to work alongside a large group of young girls and women to to work on addressing many fronts and issues that affect them. To mentor them and love them and visit them is also icing on the cake!
We address issues such as;
– do they have a birth certificate and thus are they registered as a “person” in the country to receive benefits
– do they have access to education to help them make good decisions and find or create gainful employment
– do they have safe places to go to learn and be with others?
– do they have access to training to help them be better wives and new mothers, since many of them will already be married and be having babies while they are still teenagers themselves?
– do they have access to trusted people and advocates when they are in situations of danger and pressure and risk?
As one organization aptly put it- On this day, we see many different organizations and individuals acting together to highlight, discuss, celebrate and ultimately advance girls’ lives and opportunities across the globe. The Day of the Girl is bigger than one issue, one organization, one country, and even the day itself. It is a yearly reflection of what we’ve done and what we need to keep doing to fully achieve gender equality everywhere. And if you are thinking that gender equality means anti-male development, you are dead wrong- read on!
Research is showing that addressing and reaching out to women, who more proportionately give back to their own families and communities than men, is helping to accelerate reaching other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that affect all of the family, the community and countries at large. It helps everyone get ahead.
I did a little light reading today and found great reasons as to why we focus on Girls.
Why a Day for Girls? Here’s some reasons.
As girls, we experience inequality in every aspect of our lives. There are a billion reasons why we need the Day of the Girl, but let’s start with just a few (all are linked to their source): As you will see, this is NOT just a third world or poverty induced problem! No matter where you live, there are issues affecting oppressed and at risk girls, even in your own city.
But let’s look just at Niger.
After all, you are looking at the blog of our work with Girls here in Niger 🙂 You will notice I highlighted one of the reasons above in red.
The newest report out by CARE shows that girls in Niger continue to suffer. Their recent statistics on child marriage show that once again Niger is the WORST country in the World for child marriage.
According to their article- Niger has the highest percentage of child brides in the world. And according to the U.N.’s Human Development Index, it is also the world’s least-developed country. Talk about a one-two sucker punch!! This is no coincidence. In some regions, 9 out of 10 girls marry before age 18. A harsh climate exacerbates the problem. Less rain often means more “drought brides,” as families pursue early marriage as a survival strategy, seeking one less mouth to feed and bride price money to buy food. There are also big reasons that revolve around the honor-shame worldview held by their culture. Niger also has one of the globe’s highest population growth rates — girls who drop out of school seldom have an opportunity to learn about sexual and reproductive health. I can think of many of our classes where we address these topics where the girls are thrilled (and often surprised or shocked!) to understand how things work in their own bodies. Such important information for them to have.
Women in Niger are, however, banding together to reverse some of these trends. Some projects are incorporating Village Savings and Loan Associations, leveraging their own small weekly savings to meet their greater needs at other times of the year, and to create a socail system where they can get help with shocks such as deaths and births that would otherwise wipe out their savings. There are new second chance schools, and a wider conversation happening about child marriage. The hope is that as women gain a greater voice in their homes and communities, they can break the cycle of child marriage and poverty while giving more girls an opportunity to attend school or other sorts of trainings, and, one day, attain a better future.
“Adolescent girls have the right to a safe, educated, and healthy life, not only during these critical formative years, but also as they mature into women. If effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world – both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders. An investment in realising the power of adolescent girls upholds their rights today and promises a more equitable and prosperous future, one in which half of humanity is an equal partner in solving the problems of climate change, political conflict, economic growth, disease prevention, and global sustainability.”