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
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.