The International Day of the Girl Child is a day that puts girls and girls’ education in the spotlight. Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize challenges the world to keep that spotlight shining.
History shows that countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more female leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all. Yet, girls have a hard road to reach these positions. Barring social and cultural hurdles, girls in some parts of the world have a formidable obstacle to overcome in completing their education once they reach puberty.
This often results from a lack of knowledge regarding taboo subjects – sex and menstruation; two out of three girls reported having no idea of what was happening to them when they began menstruating. This can have many negative effects on their physical and emotional development, leading to a drop in self-esteem and poor performance at school.
Asante Africa Foundation’s Wezesha Vijana Project aimed to address this “keeping girls in school” gap. The program incorporates fundamental sanitation needs (i.e., toilets with running water and hand washing stations) with life skills sessions on topics such as reproductive health and hygiene. Wezesha Vijana uniquely targets girls through tailored workshops that educate, empower and elevate their attendance and retention in school. The yearlong pilot resulted in changed perspectives for over 250 girls who participated. Five of the six participating schools are now establishing girls’ leadership training workshops to continue to cultivate peer support and hope. For their efforts and its success, the project was mentioned as a good practice in health education in UNESCO’s “Puberty Education & Menstrual Hygiene Management” at the 2013 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meetings.
Asante Africa Foundation has made important gains in facilitating access to education for girls. Their response, particularly in their participation in leadership clubs, underscores the need and hope for girls to dream big.
The many success stories from our Leadership and Entrepreneur Incubator program highlight the positive impact of educational, personal, and career skill-building on the lives of girls and young women in rural communities of East Africa. An example is Irene, a 19 year old from Tanzania.
Irene dreams of being a Doctor, a goal she tackles with tenacity. In the accompanying video she explains her plans to go home and share her new knowledge with younger youth who need this knowledge as well.
The International Day of the Girl Child is a time to honor girl’s potential and accomplishments. Help us continue to empower them throughout the year.