Empowering Young GirlsGlobally, 62 million girls are not enrolled in school, half of whom are adolescents. In addition, girls with access to “a basic education are three times less likely to contract HIV.” Those in the fight against global poverty are willing to invest in education for empowering young girls because of the incredible benefits it reaps.

On March 15, 2016, the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls was launched by Secretary Kerry. According to the U.S. Department of State Official Blog, “Investing in girls’ education is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing.”

In September 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by 193 nations. They seek to achieve these goals by 2030. The investment in girls’ education supports the targets of quality education, gender equality, suitable work opportunities and good health.

The DREAMS Innovation Challenge is an organization that is offering $85 million for innovative approaches to reduce HIV infections in young girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

Part of achieving an AIDS-free generation is empowering young girls through education. DREAMS has partnered with PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) to address the social isolation, economic disadvantage, discriminatory cultural norms, orphanhood and gender-based bias that prevents adolescent girls from attending or remaining in school.

Similarly, Let Girls Learn, a United States initiative to ensure girls receive an education, recognizes that keeping girls in school can transform their families, communities and countries. Societies with educated women are healthier and stronger because more of the population has the skills, expertise and self-assurance to lift themselves out of poverty.

Providing adequate resources and opportunities for empowering young girls to pursue their dreams facilitates global development, security and prosperity. The gender and age of children should not be seen as setbacks. Rather, they are key factors in a society’s ability to grow socially and economically.

As stated in the Executive Summary of the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, “While adolescence is a time of great vulnerability for girls, it is also an ideal point to leverage development and diplomacy efforts. It is an opportunity to disrupt poverty from becoming a permanent condition that is passed from one generation to the next.”

Emily Ednoff

Photo: Flickr

During adolescence, a girl’s confidence drops dramatically. She has grown up with the stigma and stereotype that to do something “like a girl” is an insult and something that makes her weaker than the boys. But that just isn’t so. Always is looking to boost confidence among girls with the #LIKEAGIRL campaign, both for girls in the United States as well as those who are in poorer countries abroad.

Always says that 72 percent of girls feel that society limits what they are able to do. This limitation, especially during puberty, distorts a girl’s perception of herself and creates barriers to what she wants to achieve. The campaign wants girls to know that “girls everywhere can be unstoppable #LIKEAGIRL when they smash limitations.”

This campaign is another extension of the work Always has done for the last 30 years with their puberty education. In Ethiopia, Nepal and other developing countries, Always has provided classes that educate girls about what they are going through during puberty. Many girls miss school during their periods because of false information, shame and/or lack of resources. Confidence for these girls drop, but with Always’s puberty education, absenteeism due to periods is being reduced.

Always started telling people that to do things #LIKEAGIRL is amazing with their 2015 Super Bowl ad. Since then, they have created another ad showing girls and young women physically breaking down societal barriers in the form of boxes, such as the notion that “Girls are weak,” to represent that doing things #LIKEAGIRL is actually a show of strength. The girls that see these ads at home are given a confidence boost and the men that are presented with this idea are shown how they might be limiting the women in their lives.

This message is so important for every girl regardless of socioeconomic status, but it can have a powerful psychological message for those girls in poverty who have restricted education, financial freedom, job choice and even choice of a spouse because of cultural gender expectations that they face.

Studies have shown that expanding women’s education is one factor in reducing poverty. UNICEF says, “When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that will influence generations to come.”

Always has already partnered with UNESCO in order to help women become literate. Their work directly supports literacy development in Africa; they cite that over 60,000 girls in Nigeria and Senegal have received benefits from the programs there. Literacy education is another way in which girls are given the confidence to be their “amazing, unstoppable selves.”

#LIKEAGIRL has already created a volume of commentary in the United States and has positively impacted girls that have previously suffered from lack of confidence. #LIKEAGIRL will be shown in action on their website coming soon.

Boosting a community out of poverty means boosting girls’ confidence and education. Showing girls that it takes strength to do things #LIKEAGIRL is a positive message that will bring great results.

Megan Ivy

Sources: Always, UNICEF
Photo: Always, Chymfm

How Yuwa Empowers Girls in India Through Football-TBP
India currently has the highest number of child brides on the planet, with 47 percent of girls married before they turn 18. The practice is more common in rural areas. In some states, the number reaches 69 percent. The rate of marriages is increasing for girls between the ages of 15 and 18.

There are many factors that account for this high number of child brides. Oppressive gender roles in India’s patriarchal society make it difficult for girls to pursue other options. They are typically expected to be mothers and care for the entire household. Girls often receive little schooling and have lower rates of literacy. It can be difficult for them to find work and become financially independent, so they have no choice but to marry young and depend on their husband while being burdened with domestic responsibilities. Families may also push girls to get married young out of concern for their safety and “honor.”

Child brides face risks to their mental, physical, and emotional health. Since many become pregnant at a young age, they are more likely to die in childbirth. They also have a greater chance of contracting HIV. They suffer more domestic violence: Indian child brides are twice as likely to be abused than girls who marry after 18. They also face higher rates of sexual abuse, and often exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder such as hopelessness and depression.

The Yuwa organization, an NGO based in the state of Jharkhand, is dedicated to using football (soccer) as a means to promote social development and discourage child marriage. Citizens of Jharkhand struggle with poverty and illiteracy, and it is a dangerous place for young women to grow up. Yuwa was founded in 2009, and since the program began, it has had 600 members. Currently, 250 girls participate in the program, with 150 practicing on a daily basis.

Through Yuwa, girls can organize new football teams or join an already existing team. Players collectively choose a team captain, who is responsible for tracking attendance. If a girl suddenly drops out or shows up less and less, her teammates can contact her to help her through whatever is keeping her from practice.

Yuwa’s program goes beyond football. They also work to educate girls so they can strive for a future beyond child marriage. Girls can attend their academic bridge program, which provides classes in math, science, and English, and computers. They also provide summer school and personal tutoring, and assist with transferring girls to better schools. Furthermore, Yuwa holds hour-long weekly workshops that focus on teaching life skills. These workshops are run by local female staff or other Yuwa girls, and they cover topics such as health, gender, gender-based violence, sexuality, self-esteem, and basic finances.

Yuwa’s primary objective is to inspire girls to take their futures into their own hands so they can fight child marriage, illiteracy, and human trafficking. Girls and their coaches can meet with their families to discuss options beyond marriage. Although some parents are not understanding at first, and want their daughters to follow the conventional path, many change their minds and begin to push for better futures for their daughters.

The Yuwa girls have seen success on and off the field. In 2013, a Yuwa team placed 4th in an under-14 tournament in Spain, and in 2014, they were invited to Schwan’s USA cup. Although football is not enough to undo all of the inequalities that Indian women struggle with on a daily basis, Yuwa’s girls are helping change attitudes and inspire girls to strive for new opportunities.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: Foundation for Sustainable Development, Girls Not Brides, The Guardian, International Center for Research on Women, Yuwa
Photo: Yuwa

Empowering Girls: Film in Liberia
A group of 20 girls from low-income areas of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, gather to listen to Divine Anderson. “We are going to help you make a short film about an accountability issue in your community,” she tells them.

“We don’t need to be politicians to push for the kind of country we want; our films can create change,” Anderson assures her audience.

She works for the Accountability Film School set up last year by the Accountability Lab and the girls she’s speaking to are 2014’s first class of pupils. The under-served girls will receive four weeks of instruction on low-budget film making and accountability issues. The girls will also complete self-directed film projects addressing problems of their own choosing.

Accountability Lab terms itself “an independent, non-profit organization that acts as a catalyst to make power-holders responsible in the developing world.” The organization achieves this through a three-prong approach, acting as: a sounding board on issues related to accountability and corruption, an “independent interface” engaging citizens all around the world, and an “operational hub” by supporting innovative accountability tools and communities.

And in the formerly war-torn Liberia, the lab saw much work to be done. Despite having the first female president in Africa, Liberia remains a male-dominated society in which power and resources are often skewed toward men. Its population is largely desperately poor, especially its female population, with soaring rates of illiteracy.

Sexual exploitation is also a huge issue, an issue tackled by Dorcas Pewee in her film “Say It.”

Pewee was one of the first graduates of the Accountability Film School back in the fall. Having lost her family in Liberia’s civil war, she had turned to hustling on the streets of Monrovia to survive. That is, until Anderson found her and brought her to the film school.

In September 2013, Anderson’s film, addressing the pressing issue of sexual exploitation in schools, won viewer’s choice at the first Liberian Film Festival. Pewee followed up her first film with another one on the unfulfilled promises made by Liberian politicians. And she’s found a job- helping Divine lead the current film school class.

On her experiences with the film school, Pewee is empowered. “I saw the light,” she reports.

Other students have addressed issues ranging from the lack of clean drinking water and electricity in cities to the absence of job opportunities for Liberian youth to injustices committed during the civil war.

The films are screened to activists, government employees, university representatives, and civil society members at festivals and are also distributed to local “video clubs” throughout Liberia. They function to create a dialogue about various issues within communities and to work as advocacy tools.

More than 50 students have now graduated from the film school and Anderson aims to train an additional 150 in 2014.

The sustainability of the program and its good work is evidenced by the existence of the Liberia Film Institute recently formed by graduates of the film school. Through the institute, they hope to further hone their skills and earn money through film making grants and contracts with Liberian companies and NGOs.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: ONEAccountability Lab BlogStanford Social Innovation Review
Photo: The World Bank