The adolescent girl child vision project by the year 2030

By Charity and Susan

This essay was written for International Day of the Girl by a participant of Lubuto's DREAMS program. Her name has been changed to ensure anonymity

charity-and-susan

Adolescence is a period of active growth and development-physical, sexual, social and emotional. It is a stage in which most adolescents are brutally abused. In recent years Zambia has recorded an increase in the number of defilement cases, teenage pregnancies and early marriages.  With these alarming figures there is need for Government and the international community to robustly implement the proposed marriage act which states that marriage below 21 is a punishable offence by law. There is need to educate girls in rural areas on their sexual and reproductive rights which empower them to choose who to marry, when to marry and how many children to have - and to keep them free of violence and exploitation.

When girls know their rights they become free to live their lives and enjoy better health rights. The new agenda acknowledges that increased attention to the health and wellbeing of the world’s adolescent girls. Including their sexual and reproductive health is a necessary condition for success and urgently calls for a strong focus on adolescent girls from all sectors.

Despite the progress made in recent years, girls continue to suffer merely for being young and being female. For many girls, it’s at puberty that they first encounter gender discrimination, which only intensifies as they get older. Puberty also represents a crucial window for preventative and protective investments which we should all be serious about.

Many African girls do not believe in themselves. They are held back by the dictations of tradition and are robbed of the ability to dream big in their lives. According to tradition, the only thing that girls should aim for is to become homemakers. Boys on the other hand, are expected to grow up and attain the skills needed to financially provide for their families.

In every woman – and in every adolescent girl child – lies the power to create, nurture, and transform but most girls are blinded to the power they possess by traditional teachings. A woman’s ability to run or manage things is not and should not be limited to the home; it can extend to public and political life as well.

By 2030, a girl child should be able to rise above all limitations, both cultural and otherwise and be the next Hilary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Edith Nawakwi, and Justice Ireen Mambilima. We should all strive towards a world that sets no boundaries around what a girl can do; a world in which a girl is treated no differently than a boy and is accorded the same respect and dignity; a world in which girls have the same access to jobs and to information and in which the risk of pregnancy is not a hindrance to their education.

By the year 2030, skills and development programs that focus on trades like tailoring, farming, and carpentry should be open to girls who never had the chance to continue with their formal education.

Education is a vital source of empowerment in the lives of adolescents, especially girls. The following is a list of some of the benefits of sending girls to school:

1.      Improved Female Political Representation

Across the globe women are underrepresented as voters and restricted by various factors (economic, socio-cultural) from political involvement. The United Nations Women’s Program on leadership and participation suggests that civic education, training, and all-around empowerment will ease this gap.

2.     Thriving Babies

According to the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, children of educated mothers are twice as likely to survive past the age of five.

3.     Promotion of Safe Sex

A girl who completes secondary school is three times less likely to contract HIV and other STDs. It is no wonder, then, that the World Bank regards education a window of hope in helping promote the sexual health and safety of youths – especially girls.

4.     Prevention of Early Marriage

One in every three girls is married off before reaching the age of 18. In regions where a female child receives 7 or more years of formal schooling, marriage is delayed by at least 4 years.

5.     Smaller Families

Increased participation in school reduces fertility rates overtime. Women with secondary or tertiary education have an average of 3-5 children but counterparts with no education have, on average, 7-9 – or more – children.

6.     Increased Income Potential

Education also empowers a women’s wallet and boosts her earning capability by equipping her with the tools to make a life for herself.

7.     Poverty Reduction

By 2030, girls should be provided with equal rights and equal access to education; they should be able to go on to participate in business and other economic activities. Increased earning power and income allows women the means with which to feed, clothe, and provide for their entire families and, in the process overcome poverty.

8.     Human Trafficking Prevention

Human trafficking is a major problem affecting most underdeveloped nations and some developed ones. The most affected group are young girls between the ages of 10-24. Young girls are sold off and forced into prostitution which in turn contributes to the high prevalence of HIV among them. By the 2030, most girls should know about their sexual and reproductive health rights. As things stand, the majority of the girls trafficked are in the dark about their rights.

Going forward, we need to increase our efforts to end child marriage, as well as female genital mutilation, and other harmful practices, by 2030. Girls must be given unrestricted access to comprehensive sexuality education; laws that impede access to such information and services and limits women’s choices must be challenged and done away with.

The sustainability and progress of all regions depend on the success of girls and women across the globe. It must be shaped by women who go to school and who have a positive mentality to nurture, create, and transform as well as those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons can.

Our time is now or never

 

by Eva

This essay was written for International Day of the Girl by a participant of Lubuto's DREAMS program. Her name has been changed to ensure anonymity

dreams-girls

Every adolescent girl has the power to transform the world around her, to create a new and better world for herself and others. It’s inherent in her, it is who she is, it is her nature.

It’s time the world empowered us adolescent girls so we can focus our power on changing the world, to do this our rights have to be respected and we should be provided with a platform to not only speak up but develop our potential.

The vision 2030 is for my rights as an adolescent girl to be recognized and promoted. For me this means that I will have control of my future and I will no longer suffer in silence because of vices such as stigma, gender-based violence and other struggles I face on a daily basis just because I was born a girl. Vision 2030 gives me and every girl child hope that our future will not be hindered by early marriage and child prostitution.

Of the 3.5 billion estimated female population, over 1.1 billion are girls. If these girls are given quality education and training before 2030 then by 2030 the number of women in the world market will increase. There will no longer be male dominance in political affairs and for developing countries this means that the rate at which their countries' economies develop will double since labor would have increased. 

It’s time the world stopped viewing adolescent girls as liabilities but as tomorrow’s leaders - we are the mothers, entrepreneurs, health workers, home owners and business women.  Girls run the world; we are the agents of change. In order for the vision 2030 to be achieved more girls and other people need to come onboard and help put a stop to any practices that bring emotional, sexual, physical or psychological harm to young women and adolescent girls. 

Vision 2030 will not be achieved in a blink of an eye, but will require conserted effort from all stakeholders. Measures need to be put in place in order to bring change for girls, measures such as providing quality education for girls at all levels, from primary, secondary and tertiary school, encouraging us that we are not less than boys. Quality education will help us curb the challenges we face such as early marriage, gender based violence and teenage pregnancies.

Today’s adolescent girls are 2030’s women, so if we are empowered or equipped with knowledge and skills to stand up for ourselves then by 2030 the results will be seen and they will be appealing because they do not only affect us but the world as a whole. Now that’s the power of empowering the adolescent girl!

Dear policy makers

by Miriam

This essay was written for International Day of the Girl by a participant of Lubuto's DREAMS program. Her name has been changed to ensure anonymity

miriam

In my view “The Power of the Adolescent Girl Vision 2030” is an important pronouncement, but for us to attain that, there’s need to protect adolescent girls. As we are growing up we face a lot of difficulties, not only physically but emotionally as well, as our bodies mature and change.

My vision for 2030 is a world where the adolescent girl is not forced into early marriage; where she is protected from rape or defilement; where she has the strength and self-awareness to resist peer pressure; and where she has access to sexual education.

Early Marriages:

Where I come from, parents and other elders in the communities are generally opposed to the idea of marrying off their young female children. However, in rural areas, the practice has proved much harder to stamp out. Most parents there are not aware of the harm it does. One of the major causes of this scourge is poverty. In exchange for money from the groom’s family, parents often marry off their girl children at a tender age, which is not good. Not surprisingly, the girls married off are rarely mature enough to handle the demands and responsibilities of marriage.

I’m making an appeal to our leaders to increase the age at which a person can independently consent to a marriage, from 18 to 20 or 23. I feel sorry for those girls my age who are already married because when I take everything into consideration, it’s clear that I’m not ready to be a wife.

Parents who force their children into marriage, instead of letting them go further with their studies, interfere with their children’s education. Government should continue to arrest such parents. Only by doing so will girls have the chance to achieve their goals.

Child Defilement/Rape:

I would like for our parents and guardians to make sure that we’re safe. Records show that adolescent girls are the group that is most vulnerable to defilement. Depression, a loss of self-confidence, suicide, unwanted pregnancy, and the contraction of STDs are just a few of the things that rape victims usually suffer. If girls don’t have to deal with this anymore by the year of 2030, I will be glad indeed.

Peer Pressure:

This is something that the youth are especially prone to. Keeping bad company can have serious consequences on a girl’s life. She may be influenced into illicit activities, like prostitution, which can lead to early pregnancy and the contraction of disease. Girls should be taught how to resist peer pressure by being taught how to be assertive and to set goals.

Sex Education:

Sex education is vital because it teaches girls how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to protect their sexual health. It also teaches them how to handle the sexual feelings that they develop when they growing. My vision for 2030 is a world where most adolescent girls are able to abstain from sex and concentrate on their school work.

Finally, I would like to emphasize to parents and our leaders that it’s important that adolescents receive the love and care they need as it is usually the absence of these things that leads them to falling victim to sexual abuse. Guardians need to be open so that we have someone to talk to when we are having difficulties or problems relating to our bodies.

For 2030, my vision is to have girls who have confidence in themselves; can tell right from wrong; are assertive, not passive, and have the courage to report their sexual abusers, no matter who they are. I’d also like to see a world where sanitary towels are available to every girl so that they able to carry on with their lives, no matter where they are – be it in school or at home.

 

Girl children are not doormats, but future leaders of tomorrow

by Joy

This essay was written for International Day of the Girl by a participant of Lubuto's DREAMS program. Her name has been changed to ensure anonymity

joy

“The question is not who is going to listen to me but who am I going to talk to?" The Zambia that we have today encourages male economic dominance, hence making women subordinate to men, but is that what we really want as young women and girls? To grow up and then get married at a tender age and submit to our husbands and it ends there?

One of the fundamental factors leading to the increase in the number of early child marriage cases is the tolerance and ignorance among parents. Because you find most parents have the habit of marrying off their children, they immediately mature. The other contributing factor is that most parents do not show concern with regards to their children’s education. They have neglected that parenting role and left everything in the hands of teachers, forgetting that the first teacher a child has is their parents.

But sadly what most parents do not realize is that sometimes children do things not because they have grown up but because they are not advised on the right thing to do. For instance, most parents do not talk openly about sexual education in their homes-to them if their child falls pregnant then their child is old enough for marriage. They forget that she is just a little girl who grew up a little too fast. Hence, we need to educate parents on the importance of education. Even if their children fall pregnant, marriage is not a solution to the problem. Open communication and support are the solution.

This situation is even more sad in the rural areas where there is an increase in cases of early marriage. Girls in rural areas are in need of programs empowering women and girls focused on fostering their determination for education. Apart from that, girls need to be equipped with life skills, with an emphasis on the need to develop self-esteem, especially among adolescent girls. Lack of self-esteem in girls is increasing by the day, because most girls feel insecure about doing most things believing that they won’t be successful. They also fail to accept who they are and tend to become a “doormat” (someone who can be stepped on, used and left outside like a used rug).

Because of low self-esteem some teenagers tend to be victims of peer pressure in that they are easily influenced by anything that comes their way. For example, a girl may be influenced to date at an early age, use drugs, drink alcohol and many other vices, just because she wants to fit in and be considered as cool among her peers. If only adolescents knew who they are and where they are going they may not fall for certain vices.

Another factor that needs to be looked into before 2030 is the lack of recreational activities and safe spaces such as libraries where girls can study, research and find out more about other career prospects. Most schools do not have after-school activities to keep adolescents preoccupied. The lack of educational clubs in schools is also another challenge which most girls are faced with. Apart from the academic aspect, school should be a place where adolescents learn about HIV/AIDS, sports and arts and crafts.

Another hindrance towards girls' education is poverty. The rate of poverty in the country keeps increasing. To attain the vision 2030, Government and all stakeholders must work together to eradicate poverty in order to have a better Zambia. That way poverty will not be an excuse for failure to perform among adolescents. Other parents now view their daughters as capital and give them off to the highest bidder - to them so long as they receive the money it is ok. They don’t realize that they have wasted their daughter's future and shattered her dreams.

The lack of mentors in rural areas has also led to an increase in the number of early marriage cases reported. Most adolescents tend to stop school not because they are not interested but because they are hardly told the importance of school by their parents or relatives. There is a need to have mentoring sessions in schools, speaking to girls on the dangers of early marriage. Not only to the girls, but to our economy as a nation, early marriage is one of the drivers leading to the rise in poverty levels in our country. We need mentors, people that can rouse the spirit, desire and thirst for education and, in turn, success among girls. There is a need for mentors to help reshape and challenge how girls think. Mentors can help girls set and achieve their goals in life. Instead of aimlessly moving about their communities they will have beneficial things to do with their lives like attending mentoring sessions where they not only learn, but are also empowered.

My vision for 2030 is to educate my fellow girls on the dangers of early marriage. This is my desire so that you, I, they and we can be the change we want to see in our country. So that we may build a better Zambia and come 2030 the rate of early marriage should be reduced.

 

Staying in School

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“Encouragement should come from all angles. Then you find that one will be able to make it in their studies because there is no one discouraging you.” (Bupe, age 15)*

In July 2016 Lubuto was awarded a DREAMS Innovation Challenge grant of nearly $800,000, funded by the U.S. Department of State and managed by JSI, to support our two-year project focused on keeping adolescent girls in secondary school, which was discussed in our November 2016 newsletter. Research shows that for each additional year that a teenage girl in southern Africa spends enrolled in secondary school, her likelihood of contracting HIV drops significantly.

But keeping adolescent girls in secondary school is not a simple issue. Around 27% of the girls served by Lubuto Libraries are out-of-school, and they drop out of secondary school for a variety of reasons. In order to develop effective programming under DREAMS, we knew that we needed to directly involve out-of-school adolescent girls as program co-designers. To that end, multiple focus group discussions have been held with groups of adolescent girls between May and December of 2016 (quoted below).

Many girls told us that they needed funds to pay their school fees (approximately $200 USD/year) because of parental illness or unemployment. Girls who have lost one or both parents commonly live with extended family members who are financially overburdened and are unable or unwilling to pay an additional set of school fees. Under DREAMS, LLP has introduced a crowdsourced scholarship program offering full tuition support based on financial need.

“My sister doesn’t have money to take me to school[…] My father died recently, in 2016. My sister also doesn’t have money. She’s only working as a maid. My sister buys tomatoes for me to sell so that I can fundraise, maybe I could pay and go back to school.” (Tamara, 17)

For girls who are living in extreme poverty, there can be immense pressure to resort to prostitution or early marriage as sources of financial support. As a result, many girls become pregnant at young ages. Under DREAMS LLP has created a Family Literacy program that targets young mothers with the academic catch-up they need to re-enter formal education.

“Most of my former friends are now into prostitution and I usually think to myself that maybe I should go back to that group and joined [sic] them so that I could fundraise for my school fees. But then my other sense tells me no […].” (Chileshe, 16)

In the face of these (and other) challenges and pressures, the girls in our focus groups maintained a strong sense of determination to succeed. They told us how important it is to have support from peers and friends, inspiring us to include a peer leadership training component in our DREAMS mentoring program.

“There is one particular [friend] who is so much close to me and she really wants me to go back to school. She even buys books for me. Whatever she writes she gives to me to write also, so I have all the notes. When she writes a test at school she gives me to write too. We study together, we do almost everything together.” (Rita, 14)

They also expressed the need for guidance from adults besides their parents. LLP’s DREAMS mentoring program will use young women as role model mentors to facilitate small-group discussions and lead motivational field trips to educational and cultural destinations around Lusaka.

“My mother will start controlling me, “stop that stop that.” Me, I cannot hear what my mother [is] telling me, “don’t hang out with that group,” but someone older [who is] like my mother, I will hear what she’s saying.” (Natasha, 13)

As we start rolling out DREAMS programs in February, we feel privileged to have bright, dynamic new staff members and dedicated volunteers leading programs that they have co-designed with the resilient and motivated girls in Lubuto Libraries.

“Because [my family] used to stop me so I want to do something that will shock them when I grow up and finish school.” (Loveness, 15)

You will soon be able to support these programs directly through a scholarship fund that matches donors with individual girls.

*All identifying details have been changed to protect the anonymity of focus group participants.

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