Today is the international day of the girl when the world recognizes that there are peculiar barriers to girls attaining a life of dignity and agency.
Despite the fact that adolescent girls face challenges in exercising their right to education, healthcare and economic freedom worldwide, movements globally have made concerted efforts in campaigning for the rights of the girl. Data shows that more girls are accessing education, getting married at age 18 years and above and are accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare. For instance, school life expectancy for girls in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased from 3.3 years in 1970 to 8.8 years in 2015.
However, the systemic supply-side deficiencies such as safety in schools, limited gender-sensitive infrastructure, pedagogy and school practices have harmful implications on the overall development of the girl child. For example; teachers with a stereotypical perception of girls being quiet may not pay attention to their learning or encourage them to participate in classes. Furthermore, a school with no toilet or no separate toilets for girls and boys may cost girls attendance as they are likely to be absent from school during their menstrual periods.
The demand-side factors are strongly based on damaging cultural practices with a wider spectrum on social norms, posing as strong barriers to girls’ education and healthcare. These factors play out in different scenarios such as an increase in child marriage leading to an increase in the drop-out rate for girls.
The big question remains- what can we do as citizens to improve the lives of marginalized girls?
The well-acclaimed movement- Follow The Money empowers marginalized communities to hold governments accountable to provide need-based healthcare and education infrastructure and services in order to boost socio-economic development in Africa in the long-run. Recently, we have been asking ourselves questions on how gender-responsive our work has been within the past eight years of our existence. We’ve gone back to the drawing board and with your input, we have decided to address the needs of girls in understandable steps that we can all follow.
For instance, from the supply side (government angle), tracking government spending in schools will require us confirming if there are separate toilets for boys and girls that are (dis)ability-friendly or if there are an adequate number of female teachers from the the female teacher-training scholarship (FTTSS) award scheme in the schools. We could go as far as having separate focus group discussions with boys and girls to see how often they are able to contribute to class discussions or even measure gender parity across the different grades (classes) in schools to analyze the completion rate for girls and boys.
An interesting point to add is that non-state stakeholders are not excluded from this maze of social accountability. A general consultation with key actors such as girls’ clubs, women’s groups, as well as traditional and faith-based leaders on the problems and solutions to factors promoting and impeding girls’ empowerment in their communities. The information gotten with a full gender lens will provide more apt and representative information on challenges that need to be addressed in these communities during engagements between the government and the citizens, eg, through townhall meetings and radio shows.
The benefits of an empowered girl are actually selfish to us all. This is because when girls thrive, economies thrive- educated girls tend to have fewer and well-spaced children, take their children to hospitals, and literally contribute efficiently and effectively to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in ways we cannot imagine. If I may continue with my Economics equation which I’m trying not to bore you with, lesser children and higher productivity from educated women and girls in the next 15 years already implies a higher Per Capita Income which although may not trickle down magically to the poorest of the poor, social protection mechanisms and development programmes can eventually aid in evenly redistributing wealth and boosting economic development.
We believe in a world of possibilities but our mantra is based on the statement- “we can’t do it all.” We need partners and citizens like YOU all over the world campaigning for the right of every girl to attain a life of agency. Join us on this exhilarating journey on ifollowthemoney.org today so we can Follow The Money together to empower all marginalized girls and boys!
Ojonwa Miachi is an Education and Gender Expert. Follow her on Twitter- @ojonwa