First-Ever International Day of the Girl
October 11th, 2012
“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.”
― Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Across the African continent, women and girls face seemingly insurmountable odds. They comprise 70% of Africa’s poor; and more than two-thirds of African women are illiterate. Women earn only 10% of the continent’s income, and they own just 1% of the property. Seventy five percent of the HIV-positive women in the world are African, and an African woman is 20 times more likely to die in childbirth than her counterpart in the United States.
Examples of these statistics are plentiful in many African countries. For instance, last year’s drought was not good for girls in Niger, a country where in good years one in three girls is married before age 15. In a drought year, they are married even earlier, as their families struggle to survive. As a result, young girls forfeit their education and are often forced to marry significantly older men.
The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) indicates that girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties. Thus, it is not surprising that Niger, the country with the highest rate of child marriage, also has the world’s highest rate of maternal mortality – one in seven women, (often girls), is at risk of dying in childbirth, and the risk of fistula is as high. Sadly, the situation is very similar across the Sahel in Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso, which have the second, third and sixth highest rates of child marriage respectively. Organizations like Africare that integrate literacy for girls into their food security, irrigation, sanitation, and maternal and child health programs throughout Africa, are nicking away at these problems and giving girls hope.
Despite the myriad of life-threatening challenges they face, the women and girls of Africa constitute the backbone of the continent. They are responsible for the health and sustenance of their families and simultaneously produce roughly 80% of the continent’s agricultural output. Given the strength and tenacity that African women exhibit in the face of prolific and seemingly insurmountable opposition, one can only imagine what they could achieve with more support. For example, educating girls is one of the most cost-effective ways to promote development and growth, and has a multiplier effect on the wider economy.
An educated girl marries later, has healthier and better-nourished children, and is more likely to send her children to school. She is able to earn an income and because research has shown that she will spend 90% of those resources on her family, her family will be taken care of better. In just one generation, the cycle of poverty can be broken. The strategies are simple, but implementing them effectively and consistently has proven more challenging. Africare has been applying a gender lens to many of its programs for years, having long recognized the intrinsic value of engaging women and girls in projects that aim not only to educate, but also to improve economic stability, living conditions, health and well being.
Through numerous water projects Africare has implemented over the years, we have made clean water available and more proximate to communities, dramatically reducing the time involved in fetching water. In Benin, we are partnering with the Batonga Foundation, which aims to increase girls’ access to education at the secondary and higher levels by bringing community water supplies to school facilities. By ensuring the availability of clean water at school, we are rescuing precious school hours from tasks such as fetching water; which typically fall to girl students.
The absence of toilets is an enormous deterrent to regular school attendance among African girls, particularly at the secondary level where girls are post-pubescent. In Ghana, utilizing funds from President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize donation, we sought to change this pattern by building girl-friendly toilets that enable girls to stay in school even when they are menstruating.
To extend the reach and scope of Africare’s initiatives to empower and assist women and girls, we have partnered with Educate Girls Globally (EGG), a non-profit organization that has had remarkable success in empowering girls and increasing their access to better quality education in India. Our intent is to leverage this partnership to bring EGG’s model to African schools and communities.
To further underscore our belief in the importance of achieving gender equality worldwide, Africare is also acting locally. Africare will partner with 10x10 to celebrate the first-ever International Day of the Girl, and will host an interactive discussion on October 11th at our Washington, D.C., headquarters – Africare House.
The 10x10 movement is championing the International Day of the Girl to raise awareness of the barriers that prevent millions of girls from receiving an education and the wide-ranging benefits that girls bring to their communities when equipped to seize the opportunity. Africare shares 10x10’s commitment to women’s empowerment, and will use the event to facilitate discussion among community leaders, journalists and non-profit representatives who are actively engaged in the fight for gender equality. The gathering will also encourage measures to support girls in the Shaw/Howard neighborhood, which is home to Africare’s headquarters.
Africare’s partnership with these three well-respected, proactive organizations is testament to the importance we place on improving the lives of women and girls in Africa. The problems they face are numerous and complex, but many of the solutions are well within reach and really quite simple. But applying effective, achievable strategies for change cannot be done by just one or even four organizations – it will take the efforts of many committed groups working cooperatively to break the cycle of poverty in Africa, and to ensure that all African girls have access to education, and the hope for a better future. Africare is committed to working with like-minded organizations to advance gender equality in Africa. – We believe it is a moral imperative.