As a girl, it’s pretty obvious. I am instantly up in arms when made to imagine a life where the only viable option is securing a husband for support. Thankfully, that was never a problem I had to deal with growing up in the Philippines. But not everyone is as lucky. Even now that it’s 2016, when most concerns have evolved towards virtual pursuits, many are still stuck in the struggle against culture and old traditions.
I’ll never forget how the problem was illustrated to me at the first Asante Africa Foundation event I attended last May. Joseph Nsengimana, Director at Intel and advocate of African development, was our guest speaker. He shared this in response to a question about girls and education:
“Many societies in Africa are very male oriented. You have children that are boys and girls, and you’re looking at them. When girls grow up, they get married and become part of their husband’s family. And the boys will marry and one day bring their wives to become a part of your family and become your responsibility. So when resources are limited, and the parents have to make a choice of who to educate, they are put in a very difficult situation.”
If you put it that way, it’s an easy decision to make. The girl stays at home and misses out on school. If only that was the worst of it! Since I became a part of AAF, I’ve heard all kinds of stories from bartering daughters for cows to young girls being kidnapped for marriage. UN Women’s latest fast facts on child marriage states that 1 in every 3 girls in developing countries is married before reaching the age of 18 [Click here for details]. How can any girl deprived of education ever gain the tools to fight such a fate?
Advocating Girls’ Progress
Asante Africa Foundation’s efforts at education have always included the girls. But it soon became apparent that extra effort had to be made just to keep them in school. Early pregnancy, and even menstruation, had joined child marriage as key issues that kept girls firmly at home.
In 2011, AAF launched its Girls’ Advancement Program as a response. Its mentors chose to call it Wezesha Vijana, which is Swahili for “Empower Ourselves”. A fitting title for a special curriculum that included teaching girls about their own bodies, building confidence, and imparting practical skills like handling finances.
Most important, it opened young girls to a world of possibility. Because when girls are allowed to be girls, they learn about their own strengths and abilities. It inspires them to make themselves better. And sometimes, it even moves them to consciously make a positive impact in their own communities.
Why Everyone Should Care Too?
It’s easy to make the case for how girls have the potential to become partners in building a better future. We all know what we’re capable of. But the truth is that effecting such a huge change requires more than just ourselves.
As our CEO, Erna, says: “Complex systemic problems require a systemic solution. When keeping girls in school, we need the community, parents, and boys to be a part of the equation.”
Overcoming years of tradition requires every single person to lean in. And I’m positive of success when organizations like the UN encourage the world to make gender equality priority. I feel it every time I hear stories from our communities in Africa about a father sending all his daughters to school, or a young boy asking why no one ever told them about what their sisters had to go through. I see it when our girls graduate and do their part by paying it forward.
Girls can rock just as well as anybody. All that needs to be done is to let girls be girls.
Written by Christy Monastrial. She joins Asante Africa Foundation this year as Marketing Manager and considers women empowerment as the cause closest to her heart.
Help us send 5 girls Back to School. Click here for details.