World must break down barriers holding back girls

Vivian Onano, a Kenyan and youth advisor at UN Women has been on the fore front to ensuring that the rights to education for girls are met.[Picture: Courtesy]
Vivian Onano, a Kenyan and youth advisor at UN Women has been on the fore front to ensuring that the rights to education for girls are met.[Picture: Courtesy]

Since time immemorial women and girls have remained at a most disadvantaged position. Suffering discrimination at birth and as they grow up. They miss on many opportunities that eventually determine the way they will lead their lives as grown women. Discrimination from the food they eat, to the level of education they can attain to cultural practices that include early and forced child marriages are clear indications of how society has failed to invest in girls.

While there are many international frameworks that deal on children’s rights, in most societies the girl falls out of this bracket and it’s the boy who gets the opportunities that enable him climb the ladders of success.

Burden of care

As the girls get into the adolescent stage, they are confronted with more challenges. They are the ones who bear the burden of care in families, meaning this will affect how they will be able to achieve their education if at all; they are the ones who suffer sexual violence including rape and defilement not only from close family members but also strangers, a situation that has placed them vulnerable to diseases including sexually transmitted infections and HIV as well as loss of self-esteem and early, unwanted and unplanned for pregnancies. This has also upped the stakes for the number of girls who will then seek unsafe abortion for pregnancies they had not wanted or planned for, leading to high statistics over the number of girls dying for lack of protection from sex pests inside and outside their homes.

The deaths from unsafe abortion also leave a high number of girls dying because laws have not allowed them to have safe abortion, instead laws have put barriers on their path leading them to the back streets where instead they are at the mercy of quacks who either lead them to early graves or leave them with life-long disabilities.

Persistent discrimination

As they get into womanhood, the discrimination continues more as opportunities that could make them advance into positions of leadership have been placed with caps such as university level of education that they were not able to achieve. Culture, once again remains a huge barrier to women achieving positions of power including in the political realm as patriarchy takes centre stage. The girls lack mentors and roles models because women have been culturally barred from holding public office and this leaves girls at a loss on what career paths to take as they get into adulthood.

However, the echoes from the fourth edition of the Women Deliver Conference 2016 resounding so loudly should just be the key to opening doors for girls and women to have better lives.

The Women Deliver Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark was one of the largest gathering of women in girls that brought together over 5,000 advocates, experts and young people from 168 countries.

The message from the conference was that the world must deliver for women and girls. Attended by top leaders from around the world, the meeting had everyone stressing the need to remove barriers that bar girls from achieving their potential.

Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark who was patron of Women Deliver 2016 noted: “We share a common conviction that girls and women are key to building healthy, prosperous and sustainable societies and communities.” She reiterated: “The evidence is sound when we invest in girls and women because the society as a whole benefits.”

During the conference focus was centred on health rights, gender equality, education and economic empowerment. The meeting was the first major gathering of girls and women since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals by the UN General Assembly in September 2015.

Twenty four year old Vivian Onano, a Kenyan and youth advisor at UN Women moved the conference when she spoke about ensuring that the rights to education for girls are met.

“Girls’ education and women’s economic empowerment are key to eliminating violence against women,” said Onano. She reiterated: “Without education we cannot reach gender equality and achieve global goals.”

Onano challenged world leaders at a time that Africa is scheduled to mark Day of the African Child, a day committed to looking at the status of the African child.

About 33 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are out of school and out of these 18 million are girls.  Out of the same number of out of school children 17 million are expected never to enter school.  Half of the out of school children in Sub-Saharan Africa will never enrol in school.

“Globally 62 million girls are out of school today. How do we expect them to be leaders of tomorrow without education?” posed Onano as she challenged world leaders.

Extreme poverty

Education is one of the best ways of investing in girls and a key to reducing poverty among women and girls. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim noted that women’s economic empowerment is not just smart economics, it is also key to ending extreme poverty.

During an interview at the Women Deliver Conference, Kim noted that women are better money manager when given the opportunity: “Women spend more money on children and with this education outcomes are improved.”

According to Kim: “Women are better managers of money be it in micro-enterprise lending or conditional cash transfers, women manage it better.  Giving cash directly to women has been a great strategy, it has in many instances stimulated global economy.”

However, empowering women will need to start from the time they are born as baby girls, as they grow through puberty into adolescence and eventually as they mature into adulthood. Without doors and opportunities being availed, women will forever remain at the pit bottom and this is a cycle that starts from their state as girls.

In a video address during the closing ceremony, United States Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton called on world leaders to prioritise health and rights of women and girls.

“This is an important moment. As we chart a course to meet the new Sustainable Development Goals, we have to break down barriers holding back girls and women from around the world,” said Clinton.

She noted: “Gender equality including sexual and reproductive health and rights must be a core priority. To get there we need even greater political will and resources. We need to continue to invest in more data to measure progress.”

To accelerate progress on girls and women, Women Deliver launched a new advocacy platform promoting 12 critical areas of investment in girls and women.

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