Why Girl’s Education Matters…

When a girl has self-belief and is supported by her family and community; when she’s empowered with skills, ideas and knowledge; when she has access to services, role models and other girls: when she is visible and vocal – she can demand to stay in school, to get healthcare, and to get married and have children when she chooses.

This week I was faced with a piece of information that made me despair. The statement of a country leader that they would not allow teenage mothers to return to school to continue their education after the birth of their child.

Pregnancy during adolescence has been associated with school drop out among girls in developing countries for many years. In Tanzania, girls are often expelled from school when they are found to be pregnant. According to a 2013 report by the Centre for Reproductive Rights, over 55,000 adolescent girls were either forced to drop out or were expelled from schools because of pregnancy between 2003 and 2011. Although their research “revealed no national-level law, regulation, or policy explicitly requiring the expulsion of pregnant students”, they found a widespread belief among teachers, school administrators and education officials that this practice is required by law. Expulsion from school has a big impact on the lives of these girls. It decreases their likelihood of earning a good income. They are also often faced with stigmatization by their peers, parents and wider communities.

5e387a99383d23ec778be3d93eaf740aWhen girls are healthy and their rights are fulfilled, they can go to school, learn and gain the skills and resources they need to be healthy, productive and empowered adults – disrupting the cycle of poverty. In the last two decades, we have seen enormous advances in girls’ educational attainment at the primary level. However, girls in most regions, particularly the poorest and most marginalized, continue to fall behind at the secondary level.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights issues, especially gender-based violence and adolescent girls’ vulnerability to child, early and forced marriage, unintended pregnancy, and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections impede girls’ educational aspirations.

Here are some of the facts…

  • A significant proportion of girls become pregnant during the time that they should be in school: About 19% of girls in the developing world become pregnant before age 18, and about 3% become pregnant before age 15.
  • This is not just a Tanzanian issue. About one-third of girls in the developing world are married. In South Asia, nearly 50% of girls are married before age 18, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 40% are.
  • Not coincidentally, these are also regions where the gender gap is greatest between boys and girls at the secondary level.
  • Girls with no education are three times more likely to marry before age 18 than those with secondary or higher education.
  • Girls with only primary education are twice as likely to marry early as those with secondary or higher education.
  • Girls and boys often lack access to information and services that would improve their sexual and reproductive health and educational status. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Central and Southeast Asia, more than 60% of adolescents who wish to avoid pregnancy do not have access to modern contraception.
  • Violence undermines access to school as well as learning. A recent nationwide study in Tanzania reported that three of every 10 Tanzanian females age 12 to 24 had been victims of sexual violence. Of these, almost 25% reported an incident while traveling to or from school, and 15% reported an incident at school or on school grounds.

investing-girls-quoteBy not allowing teenage mother’s to return to school after the birth of their child, a country is doing more harm to their economic prospects than good. Girls completing secondary  school in Kenya would add  US$27 billion to the economy over their lifetimes. If Ethiopian girls completed secondary school, the total contribution over their lifetimes is US$6.8 billion. If young Nigerian women had the same employment rates as young men, the country would add US$13.9 billion annually.

GIRL EFFECT: UNLEASH HER POTENTIAL
To start, give girls voice and listen. They’ll tell you what they need: all the skills, assets, and opportunities listed below.
1. Get girls through secondary school so they can participate fully in their communities and economies.
2. Provide designated girl spaces so every girl gets a running start to build networks, master skills, and share her voice.
3. Invest in the best solution to prevent HIV/AIDS and reduce maternal mortality: girls.
4. Incentivise communities to eradicate child marriage.
5. Give girls land rights to accelerate agricultural productivity and achieve food security.
6. Invest early so girls save money, build economic assets, and move from burdens to breadwinners.

 

“Women’s empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduce infant mortality. It contributes to improved health and nutrition. It increases the chances of education for the next generation.”
― Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
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V-Day 2016 

 
For many years I have been a supporter of the V-Day Movement and of Eve Ensler’s incredible work bringing the voices and stories of women around the world to the world stage. 

In 1998, Eve launched V-Day, a global non-profit movement that has raised over $100 million for groups working to end violence against women and girls anti-violence through benefits of  performances of The Vagina Monologues.

Eve Ensler wrote The Vagina Monologues following interviews with 200 women about their views on sex, relationships, and violence against women. The interviews began as casual conversations with her friends, who then brought up anecdotes they themselves had been told by other friends; this began a continuing chain of referrals.  She wanted their stories to be heard and for the world to sit up and take note that, even in these enlightened, modern times, the women of this world still suffer a disproportionate amount more than their male counterparts….and most often at the hands of the men. 

The Vagina Monologues is the cornerstone of the V-Day movement, whose participants stage benefit performances of the show and host other related events in their communities. Such events take place worldwide each year between February 1 and April 30. The performances generally benefit rape crisis centers and shelters for women, as well as similar resource centers for women.

This year, I am immensely proud to be performing in such an event. On Friday 12th February I will be performing in The Vagina Monologues, raising money for the Network Against Female Genital Mutilation (NAFGEM). On Saturday 13th February I will be performing in another Eve Ensler play, A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant And A Prayer with proceeds benefitting Arusha Women Legal Aid And Human Right Organization (AWLAHURIO). 

My own personal experiences of violence against women not only makes me want to connect with others on this topic – it makes me vehemently passionate about this cause. I believe in Eve Ensler’s approach – once you give consciousness to something, then people will talk about it. 

 
Being a part of this production is a huge personal step in my own healing and reconciliation on this topic. Some of the monologues are so heart-wrenching that even speaking them out loud feels like a healing exercise in itself. The power of the words is beautiful, heartbreaking and, ultimately, motivating and empowering. 

 
I could not be prouder to be a part of this. 

The Rise of the Smart Girl

Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly aware of a positive shift in how women are perceived within pop culture, on social networking and within society as a whole. Every day I can see more and more positive role models for young women within the media and on newsreels and on the covers of magazines on the shelves.

Now, before you switch off reading, this is not going to be a feminist rant on the decades of oppression that women have been subjected to, or the never ending double standards that women are held to on a daily basis. Don’t worry! There are plenty of blogs of that ilk out there already which you can easily find with just a quick google search.

Instead, I’d like to look at the rise of the smart girl and some of the empowering websites I have come across that celebrate this. There has been a phase shift from the ‘girls-gone-wild-pretty-but-dumb’ female that seemed to be the norm during my formative years. Instead, we are increasingly being presented with positive images of women whose worth lies in much more than their looks and ability to smile sexily from the pages of a magazine. Don’t get me wrong – that image still exists out there. But I’m happy to see a lot less of them, and a lot more of the ‘smart girl’.

A few months ago I came across the wonderful website Smart Girls At The Party which was founded by, amongst others, the fantastic Amy Poehler.

Meredith Walker, Amy Miles, and Amy Poehler created the web series “Smart Girls at the Party” which has won a Webby Award and has been recognized by SXSWEducation and Common Sense Media for its inspiring content. However, Poehler and Walker were not content with merely creating empowering shows for young women, they wanted to create a community as well. And so, Smart Girls At The Party was born. It’s an informative, empowering, inspiring and fun place that I wish had existed when I was a teenage girl.

Another fantastic website that encourages, empowers and also brings a laugh is the Hellogiggles community. HelloGiggles is a positive online community for women (although men are always welcome!) covering a wide and varied range of subjects and all meant to inspire a smile. Again, this was founded by three women who have been within the media for a number of years – Zooey Deschanel, Molly McAleer and Sophia Rossi.

These are just two of my favourites, and there are thankfully many more out there, encouraging the smarter side of women rather than the ‘pretty and sexy’ side.

In our daily lives, we can see inspiring women (Smart Girls) active in using their voice for positive action, from becoming ambassadors and advocates for charities and humanitarian causes to building their own businesses. Just a quick browse through TED and you will be met with a host these fantastic women.

I want to share some of my favourite Smart Girls…

Jessica Jackley (Kiva and ProFounder)

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Jackley was the co-founder and CEO of ProFounder and co-founder of Kiva, the world’s first p2p microlending website. As if that wasn’t enough, Jessica is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a 2011 World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader, and serves as an active board member on several organizations championing women, microfinance, tech, and the arts, including Opportunity International, the International Museum of Women, and Allowance for Good. She is a fantastic example of dedication, perseverance and using your knowledge and skills to bring about positive change for people around the world.

Eve Ensler
The writer of The Vagina Monologues and founder of the V-Day movement, Eve Ensler’s brutal honesty and storytelling makes you sit up and take notice. She is a champion for girls and works tirelessly to ensure girls voices are heard. Just watch the video…

Kakenya Ntaiya (TED Talk – A girl who demanded school)
The founder of the Kakenya Center for Excellence, Kakenya Ntaiya is an incredible example of the potential for change that is held within one person. Kakenya Ntaiya made a deal with her father: She would undergo the traditional Maasai rite of passage of female circumcision if he would let her go to high school. Kakenya fearlessly continued on to college, and then went on to work with her village elders to build a school for girls in her community. It’s the educational journey of one that altered the destiny of many more young women.

Leymah Gbowee

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Liberian peace and women’s rights activist Leymah Gbowee was one if the recipients of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. As war ravaged Liberia, Leymah Gbowee realized it is women who bear the greatest burden in prolonged conflicts. She began organizing Christian and Muslim women to demonstrate together, founding Liberian Mass Action for Peace and launching protests and a sex strike. Gbowee’s part in helping to oust Charles Taylor was featured in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. I have just started reading Leymah’s memoir, ‘Mighty Be Our Powers’, and she writes as charismatically and beautifully and powerfully as she speaks. She is a truly inspirational woman.

Who inspires you?