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Let’s unlock the power of girls for social change

The International Day of the Girl Child is commemorated every year on October 11.

This day increases awareness of issues faced by girls around the world, to make these issues visible and to inspire commitments and action to promote their rights.

With all the government, non-governmental organisations’ and civil society’s efforts to uplift their situation, millions of girls still face deep-rooted inequalities and violations of their rights on a daily basis, including discrimination, harmful cultural practices such as child marriage, defilement, teenage pregnancy, school dropout, sexual assault, child poverty and poor health.

Lots of girls feel unsafe on their way to school and others have had poor academic performances due to menstrual challenges.

These inequalities ruin social change in all circles, particularly national development. In Uganda, there are significant disparities between adolescent girls and boys, with the former lagging behind in most of the socio-economic and health indicators.

Nationally, 14.7 per cent of girls between the age of 15 and 19 are neither in school nor working, as compared with two per cent of boys of the same age.

Teenage pregnancy stands at 25 per cent, sexual debut is estimated at 16.7 years; 15 per cent of girls are married by the age of 15 and 49 per cent by age 18.

Some 66 per cent of all new HIV infections are contracted by adolescent girls. Adolescent girls in conflict and emergency situations are even more vulnerable.

Girls in this situation are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys, compromising their future prospects for work and financial independence as adults.

No matter what their circumstances and what they are capable of, girls face a wall of resistance in their struggle to progress. We, therefore, need a wholesale change in societal attitudes – and we need it now by unlocking their potentials if we should have social change.

In many societies, girls and women are very often denied the opportunity to be heard. They remain invisible. This year’s national celebrations were preceded, among other activities, by “Girls’ take- overs” facilitated by the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Plan International Uganda, civil society and the private sector.

These bodies are supporting girls all over the country to symbolically assume leadership positions in government, the police, civil society and the banking sector.

The aim is to change perceptions about what is possible for girls, to transform power relations, showcase girls’ leadership potential when given the opportunity and for them to amplify their voices about issues affecting them.

Gaining legitimacy in formal public spaces continues to be a challenge for girls with too much power still, and at many levels, concentrated in male hands. Uganda being a dominantly patriarchal society, the ideology gives power, position, and social meaning to men than women and girls even in this 21st century.

This remains the grassroots cause of gender inequality and a key driver of exclusion, marginalisation, and poverty among girls and women in Uganda.

Yet gender equality can bring about progress in all development goals – from tackling poverty, improving health and economic development. However, it is only by addressing inequalities faced by women and girls that we will be able to achieve this progress.

Participation of women and girls in the work industry sets a direct path towards poverty eradication, inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.

To achieve this goal, both the private and public sector need to invest in programmes that empower young women and girls to become much more productive and competitive in the workplaces and achieve higher levels of personal and professional growth.

Hence, focusing on adolescent girls is the best investment to break intergenerational poverty and improve the status of Uganda’s 1.6 million girls locked in poverty.

Educated girls and women in leadership positions are a powerful force behind political, economic development and sustainability, particularly when thy have required skills, opportunities and are accorded a conducive work environment.

But first, we need to stamp out the deeply entrenched barriers to education of girls like discrimination, harmful cultural practices such as child marriage, defilement, teenage pregnancy, school dropout, sexual assault, child poverty and poor health.

We cannot improve what we can’t measure. Government and all stakeholders must start recording girls’ circumstances if we are to meet the ambitious agenda set for 2030 and ultimately social change.

A recent study done by Plan International titled Unlock the Power of Girls Now notes that despite the barriers and prejudices they face, girls are eager to lead the change they need and seek action and solidarity with others to achieve it.

Governments, civil society, media, corporates, all leaders, schools, parents, girls and boys all have a role in stamping out gender inequality.

When we value girls, advance their rights and invest in their future, everybody wins. So, let us all strive to unlock the power of girls and enjoy social change.

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The author is the communications manager at Plan International Uganda.


Comments   

0 #1 Akot 2017-10-12 18:57
Only Education is way out for each & every girl!

When & How many kids a girl wants depend on Education & without this, they will all have + 6 kids, even when gey can't afford to bring up just 1!

European girls who do not have abilities/intelligence for higher education have babies in order to have social benefits: housing-help with bills...!

But of course Uganda parliament is only concerned about museveni's age, unaware that the demon is on the point of owning every tribal land & selling rich spots to foreign investors!

Migrating unaccompanied young-parents going to Europe say "We want Education, that's all"!

They are not concerned about housing-food; this is the responsibility of countries taking them in too!
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