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She’s the First Across the globe, women face harsh inequalities in education and the promotion of other crucial rights. Women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population, receive lower wages, experience gender-based violence and are forced to adhere to strict societal gender norms that prevent their progression. This is especially the case in developing countries. She’s the First is an organization where the progression of women is a central focus.

She’s the First

She’s the First, a nonprofit organization, recognizes the benefits of prioritizing women and gender equality. When females are educated and empowered, they can earn up to 20% more as an adult for each additional year of schooling completed. They are also then more likely to be in healthy relationships, have fewer but healthier children, are less likely to marry early and are more likely to make an impact in the world. These reasons are why She’s the First puts girls first by promoting women’s equality and education.

Putting Girls First

She’s the First promotes girls’ education and equality. It provides funding to different community-based organizations that can implement culturally efficient ways for girls to attend school as well as afterschool programs where they can further their education while simultaneously learning about life skills and reproductive health. She’s the First also runs training and conferences around the globe. These conferences amplify girls’ voices around the world, inspiring them to become leaders in their own communities. As of the end of 2019, She’s the First reached 11,000 girls, had a presence in 21 countries and provided training for 52 community-based organizations.

Girls’ Bill Of Rights

She’s the First is a co-organizer of the Girls’ Bill of Rights, a declaration of the rights all girls are entitled to, written by girls, for girls. More than 1,000 girls from 34 countries contributed to the list, created on the 2019 International Day of Girl and presented to the United Nations. The Girls’ Bill of Rights advocates for the promotion of girls’ rights like quality education, equality, leadership, sexual education and reproductive rights, protection from harmful cultural practices, free decision-making and more. To support the Girls’ Bill of Rights, supporters can use the hashtag “#GirlsBillOfRights”, co-sign the bill or make a public pledge of support.

Women’s Empowerment and Poverty Reduction

She’s the First is an organization that works toward complete equality for women worldwide, especially in regards to education. Currently, women face a significant disadvantage, especially those who are uneducated. If women are given education and equality, they can lift themselves out of poverty since education is directly related to lowering poverty levels. She’s the First spreads this idea by creating culturally efficient ways for girls to go to school and further their education in developing countries. The organization also advocates for women’s rights through the Girls’ Bill of Rights. She’s the First plays a crucial part in empowering women and helping them to lift themselves out of poverty.

– Seona Maskara
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Period Poverty in TanzaniaPeriod poverty, or the inability to access sanitary products for menstruation, remains a problem in many impoverished areas of the world, with millions of women and girls denied access to products and forced to stop attended school during their menstrual cycles. This problem persists in Tanzania, where only 8% of girls finish secondary school and the average menstruating student misses three to four classes during each cycle. Menstruation is a taboo subject in many developing countries, teaching young girls that their cycles are unhealthy, dirty or something to hide and be ashamed of. However, several organizations are fighting period poverty in Tanzania to ensure that all girls receive the sanitary products and education they need to continue school and defeat the stigma around menstruation. UNFPA Tanzania, WomensChoice Industries and Made With Hope are just a handful of the groups working to make sure that period poverty in Tanzania becomes a thing of the past.

UNFPA Tanzania is Educating Both Girls and Boys on Menstruation

The United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) branch in Tanzania has noted the lack of education surrounding menstruation for both men and women. In various places throughout the nation, the organization has noted girls being taught that menstruation is shameful and should be hidden (even from other women) or that they are taught nothing about it at all. That is why UNFPA Tanzania has enacted various programs in the country’s Kigoma region to normalize education around menstruation for both sexes. These initiatives include Ujana Wangu Nguvu Yangu (My Youth, My Power), a four-year series of classes that teach Tanzanian adolescents about sexual and reproductive health, including menstruation.

In addition to initiating these programs, UNFPA has taken further steps to ensure that period poverty in Tanzania does not worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has kept its Adolescent and Youth Centers open with proper social distancing protocols in place so that women and girls in Tanzania still have access to the sanitary products and support they need during their menstrual cycles.

WomensChoice Industries

Lucy Odiwa, a Kenyan woman, grew up surrounded by harmful stigma about menstruation. This experience inspired her to establish WomensChoice Industries, which creates reusable sanitary products in order to decrease period poverty in Tanzania and ensure that girls in the region do not grow up in the same way she did.

Many women in rural Tanzania cannot afford sanitary products so Odiwa began selling her Salama pads, which can be reused for up to three years, for Sh5,000 ($2). In addition to the pads, WomensChoice Industries also manufactures tampons, breast pads and diapers for children and adults, all at a low cost so that they are more accessible to Tanzania’s low-income communities.

And the work does not stop there. Like UNFPA, WomensChoice Industries provides reproductive education to Tanzanian boys and girls. Representatives from the organization travel across the region to reduce the stigma around menstruation and ensure that adolescent girls are aware of their own sexual and reproductive health. The group has reached over 1.8 million women with its menstrual health programs as well as 1.2 million with its affordable and reusable sanitary products.

Made With Hope

Made With Hope is an organization based in the United Kingdom that focuses on increasing access to education for children in Tanzania, whether that be building schools or working to improve those already implemented by the government. As girls frequently miss class due to their menstrual cycles, the organization has made it a priority to combat period poverty. In addition to increasing education surrounding menstruation, Made With Hope has created a clean space in the schools it has built for girls to change their sanitary products safely. It has also helped to create local income-generating programs that manufacture these products. The organization has also worked to spread awareness of period poverty in Tanzania around the United Kingdom, inspiring others to get involved with the issue, even from abroad.

While period poverty in Tanzania remains an issue, UNFPA Tanzania, WomensChoice Industries and Made With Hope are all fighting period poverty in Tanzania to ensure that all Tanzanian women and girls receive the sanitary products and menstrual health education they need.

– Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in MalawiIn April 2017, Malawi president Peter Murtharika signed an amendment into law to outlaw child marriage in the country following a vote in Parliament.

This amendment has greatly affected the role of women and girls in Malawi, because prior to the amendment, girls were allowed to marry at age 15. Consequently, Malawi is ranked 11th in child marriage around the world; however, with the introduction of the new amendment, girls will not be allowed to marry if they are under the age of 18.

Child marriage was a large problem in Malawi and posed various challenges to the lives of girls, including limited access to a proper education. According to Jill Filipovic of The Guardian, girls who are married and have children in their early teenage years find it difficult to obtain an education while maintaining their roles as wives and mothers. Also, a lack of hygiene products like tampons and pads is a serious issue for girls who attempt to receive an education, because girls have to stay home during menstruation if they do not have the proper hygiene products.

However, many steps have been taken to increase girls’ access to education in Malawi. President Murtharika’s amendment to outlaw child marriage was an important step in the right direction for girls, and there are many organizations that are helping girls as well. For instance, the organization Girls Not Brides takes action against countries in which child marriage is allowed.

Furthermore, in May 2017, Neetha Tangirala from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reported that radio has served as a “primary source of news and information” for the people of Malawi, including women and girls.

Marshall Dyton, a Mandela Washington Fellow, hosted a radio show in order to stress the importance of girls’ education in Malawi. Dyton’s two-hour-long radio show reached an audience of approximately three million people.

USAID highlights the importance of community inclusion in the fight for gender equality in impoverished areas. Dyton’s radio show is a great example of the work many people are doing to improve girls’ education in Malawi. The radio show, which was organized by the Girl Child Education movement and funded by USAID, helped to start conversations in communities regarding the importance of girls’ education.

The outcome of the radio show was immense; following the broadcast of the radio show, the Muslim Association of Malawi was persuaded to increase access to information regarding education in some of the most rural areas of Malawi. The fight for girls’ education in the wake of the outlaw of child marriage in Malawi is only just beginning.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

The Importance of Women and Girls in AgricultureSmall communities and impoverished areas oftentimes rely on farming for their food supplies, however, due to the low socioeconomic statuses of many of these places the livestock is often diseased and plagued by harmful pests and environmental factors.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, there is a large opportunity to improve health outcomes in countries of low socioeconomic status by helping communities that rely on farming. Moreover, the organization believes that providing aid to farming and agriculture is “the most effective way to reduce hunger and poverty over the long term.”

Women and girls tend to run the farms in their small communities, working in order to provide food for their families and local communities. Bill and Melinda Gates are aware of the role women and girls have in agriculture and have developed a variety of agricultural education programs that help women and girls thrive on these farms.

For instance, the organization is currently working with the United Nations World Food Programme‘s Purchase for Progress initiative in order to create goals that are specifically geared towards women and girls in agriculture. Programs that are “gender-aware” are more likely to reach women who lack education and encourage women to step into leadership roles.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has found that yields on farms run by women are approximately 20 to 40 percent lower than yields on farms run by men, and therefore, “gender-aware” programs that specifically seek to increase the work of women on farms are vital.

As mentioned above, women are typically the providers of food for their families and local communities. Access to healthy food is important for children in school and the health of the community as a whole which is why agricultural education for women is important because it is promising better health outcomes for communities in which farming is the main source of food.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Protecting Girls’ Access to EducationThe evidence is overwhelming that education is pivotal in the fight to alleviate global poverty. Simultaneously, poverty remains the most significant factor in determining whether girls can access education. The Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act aims to resolve the cycle of deprivation that affects 121 million children that are not in school. Of these children living in crisis and conflict-affected countries, 98 million are girls.

In addition to reducing poverty, education improves the lives of displaced children and girls by significantly reducing their exposure to human trafficking and extremist ideology. Protecting girls’ access to education offers the best hope of breaking the cycle of female deprivation in poverty-stricken countries.

Education is a priority for displaced children and girls and it needs to become a priority
in U.S. legislation. Despite the fact that the world is facing its largest population of displaced people since the end of World War II, less than 2 percent of global emergency aid was allotted to educational services in 2016.

Recurring conflict and increasing numbers of displaced children and girls require more action. While there are many efforts to provide universal primary and secondary education to boys and girls alike, there are 80 countries around the world in which progress on girls’ education is severely lagging behind. The Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act will prioritize and advance these ongoing efforts in the hope of ending this global stall on girls’ education.

Although girls have high academic aspirations, conflict continues to threaten the advancement of their education. The largest gender gaps exist in girls’ education in the most impoverished nations and among displaced populations. Girls who face multiple disadvantages should not also be deprived one of their most vital and inalienable rights.

According to a study of U.S. public attitudes on foreign aid, 90 percent of people agreed that the U.S. should increase support for programs to give girls in developing countries the same access to primary and secondary education as boys have. It is time for U.S. legislation to mirror this belief; one way this is possible is through the Protecting Girl’s Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act.

The official language of this bipartisan bill explains its aims to “enhance the transparency, improve the coordination, and intensify the impact of assistance to support access to primary and secondary education for displaced children and persons, including women and girls.”

The legislation’s design is fourfold:

  • To prioritize and advance ongoing efforts to expand access to education for displaced children and girls
  • To coordinate with multilateral organizations to collect data on the ability of displaced children and girls to access education as to continually improve assistance efforts
  • To promote safe primary and secondary education for displaced children and girls through cooperation with private sector and civil society organizations
  • To coordinate with governments of host countries to promote the inclusion of displaced children and girls into their education systems and develop new approaches (e.g. extending school hours, increasing amount of teachers) when inclusion is not possible.

The Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act can be shortened
to “Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act” and has been introduced as legislation in both the House (H.R. 2408) and the Senate (S. 1580). Together the bills have received the great support of 46 cosponsors, all pushing for the legislation to be enacted into law.

“Education is one of the key components in helping lift this most vulnerable population
out of the depths of poverty and the difficult circumstances that they are facing,” Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) explained at the Foreign Affairs Committee markup of H.R. 2408. “It’s our responsibility as leaders of the free world to step up and ensure that education is accessible to all.”

H.R. 2408 was unanimously passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 27, 2017. Only about one in four bills are reported out of committee, making this a noteworthy success. Committee members have brought the bill one step closer to protecting girls’ access to education. There are many more steps in the lawmaking process and continued bipartisan support is imperative for the advancement of this legislation.

Jamie Enright

Photo: Flickr

Women and Girls Can Increase Health Outcomes in Poor CountriesIn 2016, Deputy President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa announced the beginning of a three-year-long campaign meant to decrease the rapid spread of HIV among women and girls in South Africa. Ramaphosa’s campaign is meant to increase the health of women in South Africa, but the campaign may have the potential to increase the health of the entire community.

The physical and psychological health of women and girls must be addressed in order to increase health outcomes in poor countries, because women and girls are oftentimes the providers of necessities such as food and water in their families and communities. Women and girls can increase health outcomes in poor countries, because they are incredibly essential to their communities and provide necessities that are vital for healthy lives.

Ramaphosa’s campaign is tackling issues such as a lack of education and gender-based violence, which are often associated with the spread of HIV among women and girls in South Africa.

A focus on education, which is one of the campaign’s core values, will ultimately help empower women and girls over time. According to UNAIDS, Ramaphosa stated, “young women and girls are the heart and future of South Africa.”

Similarly, USAIDS reported that approximately 62 million girls around the world do not have adequate access to education, and in response, the #LetGirlsLearn campaign was started. #LetGirlsLearn places an emphasis on providing women and girls in impoverished areas with an education, which “lower[s] rates of HIV and AIDS.”

If they were not concerned about the spread of diseases such as HIV, women and girls would have the opportunity to invest more time in their communities. USAIDS has implemented community facilitators in poor areas in order to allow women and girls to learn useful skills such as farming and sanitation. These skills are important for women, who provide food and water to their families and communities, because they prevent the spread of disease.

UNICEF further recognizes the importance of women and girls for health outcomes in poor nations, emphasizing that “women and girls are traditionally responsible for domestic water supply and sanitation and maintaining a hygienic home environment.” In fact, approximately 44 million pregnant women suffered from a variety of preventable hookworm infections due to a lack of sanitation.

Diseases and infections are spread rapidly throughout tight-knit communities and areas where people lack proper vaccination and sanitation. It is critical that women and girls in poor countries are provided with these types of education and developmental programs. The health outcomes of a large number of families and communities ultimately depend on the empowerment of their female members.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Girls Education

In order to initiate better girls education around the world, the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) has worked in several countries to improve access to education. In its most recent effort, it granted $6 million to UNICEF in August 2017. The aim of this grant is to assure better health, protection and widespread education for Jordanian children, as well as Syrian refugee children who have found a new home in Jordan.

The funding will be put to a variety of beneficial uses, such as health education, reliable water sanitation, psychological counseling and amplified education for children with disabilities. In addition, specific psychological help will be given to women and girls who may be victims of gender-based violence, discrimination or child marriage.

The funding comes as part of KOICA’s five-year-long, $200 million program, “Better Life for Girls,” which aims to increase the amount of girls in schools in developing countries, better the quality of the education they receive and ensure that no girl is victim to being treated unfairly or receiving a lesser education on account of her gender.

In July of 2016, KOICA brought the “Better Life for Girls” program to Uganda, pledging $5 million to adolescent girls’ education over the course of two and a half years. They promised an emphasis on technology, educating parents as well as children on the harm of early pregnancy and child marriage and encouraging men and boys to join the efforts in reducing abuse and mistreatment of women.

As KOICA points out, almost 62 million girls cannot go to school. Poor families in third-world countries often prioritize boys’ education over girls, who are forced to drop out of school or forgo attending altogether. Many girls are needed at home, are subjected to child marriage, or become pregnant at a young age, restricting their ability to get an education. The Uganda Demographic and Health Survey states that one in four girls from ages 15 to 19 is pregnant or has a child, meaning that she often cannot go to school.

But it is education that will empower women to be able to make decisions about their own health, to start a lucrative career that will allow her independence, and to contribute to her own future and her society’s future with her intellectual prowess. Not only does KOICA wish to encourage this, the agency wants to spread awareness about the unfair treatment of girls at schools in developing countries and explore their untapped potential.

Another effort from the “Better Life for Girls” program was made in the Gaza strip in February of 2016. KOICA pledged $500,000 to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The UNRWA’s technical and vocational education and training program helps highlight job opportunities and provides training in those areas to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, particularly women. KOICA’s contribution enabled the UNRWA to reevaluate its program and ensure that it would guide bright and innovative refugees to employment.

The “Better Life for Girls” program serves to remind that there is no limit to the new heights that may be reached with more women at the helm, with more girls learning how to make society a better place, with more female minds behind the world’s newest inventions, political advancements, medical discoveries and more.

Expanding girls education will improve the community and open the world to millions more people who have the potential to lead, create, heal and discover. It will change the world for the better.

Charlotte Armstrong

Photo: Flickr

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Learn about the Protecting Girls Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act.

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Girls' Education in PakistanMalala Yousafzai is the 19-year-old author of Malala’s Magic Pencil, a children’s book she wrote to encourage girls’ education in Pakistan. She has inspired millions around the world with this creative campaign. In 2012, Malala was shot by by members of the Taliban who were against her advocacy while she was on her way to school, but this act of terrorism did not stop her. She continued her advocacy work and published the book this year.

Malala’s Magic Pencil is about a young girl, Malala, who wants to use her magic pencil to fix problems and make everyone in her family happy. As she got older, she saw a world that needed more important things to be fixed. She realized that even if she never found a magic pencil, she could still work every day to make her wishes of fixing those problems come true. This inspiring illustration encouraged girls in Pakistan and around the world to strive for better lives through education.

Over a hundred thousand people joined Malala’s fight to make sure every girl has a school to go to with her foundation #YesAllGirls. As the refugee crisis grows, more girls are denied their right to education, but supporters of Malala’s campaign have promised 12 years of school to all girls. With the help of donations, Malala will not stop until all girls are in school.

With Malala’s determination, she provides hope for girls’ education in Pakistan and around the world. “We should all speak for girls’ education, for both girls’ and boys’ education. Boys and men should also know about equality and justice, and know that women have equal rights, and should be treated equally,” Malala says.

Because of her work, Malala is admired by thousands. Although growing up she was taught that women could only be doctors, teachers or housewives, she has expressed her desire to be a leader in her country, possibly even prime minister of Pakistan, in the future. For now, Malala continues her advocacy for girls striving for better lives. Every action she takes is another step towards her goal of providing all girls with education, first in Pakistan and then the rest of the world.

Brandi Gomez

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Learn about the Protecting Girls Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act.

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Pregnant Students in TanzaniaMore than two dozen nonprofits have condemned the Tanzanian government for its refusal to educate teenage mothers and pregnant students in Tanzania.

Since the 1960s, Tanzanian schools have had the power to refuse educating pregnant students in Tanzania. This has culminated in 55,000 young mothers being expelled over the last decade, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The protest came to a head when President John Magufuli commented on the matter. During a speech, Magufuli declared that no pregnant student will ever attend or return to school as long as he is president.

Magufuli reasons that educating pregnant students in Tanzania would encourage other girls to get pregnant as well. He also believes that teenagers would be too distracted to concentrate on school. The 29 organizations highlight how this stance against educating pregnant students in Tanzania infringes on their human rights. All students, according to Equality Now, have a right to education, regardless of whether or not they have a child.

Equality Now also highlight that the government’s actions unfairly puts the consequences of pregnancy solely on the mothers. According to The Guardian, 21 percent of girls between 15 and 19 in Tanzania are already mothers, oftentimes due to “rape, sexual violence and coercion.”
Lack of education, moreover, exacerbates the poverty that most of the pregnant students live in. Many young mothers are forced to take menial jobs in order to support themselves and their children.

Equality Now urges Tanzania to put the burden of pregnancy consequences on the sexual perpetrator rather than the victim. The organization requests that the government establishes stricter punishments for rapists in order to curtail teen pregnancy.

The organization also asks for more sexual education for teenagers. Unfortunately, many of the teenagers do not realize the connection between sex and pregnancy.

Finally, Equality Now has observed how other countries have readmitted pregnant or new teenage mothers. According to the nonprofit organization, there is no rise in pregnancies due to the presence of pregnant students.

The Tanzanian government is resistant to change on this matter. Magufuli feels that the foreign nonprofit organization are involving themselves in matters best left to the national government.

Regardless, organizations like Equality Now will continue working towards educating Tanzanian pregnant students.

Cortney Rowe

Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Saudi Arabia
With the first private school for girls opening in 1956 and the first public school opening around 1960, the history of girls’ education in Saudi Arabia is relatively brief. And though some gender disparity remains in the country’s adult literacy rate, the education gender gap is rapidly closing due to new kingdom-wide objectives.

Though just 91.84% of women are literate versus 96.95% of men, the disparity is significantly smaller among the youth population, with both male and female literacy hovering around 99%—an astounding rise from the two percent female literacy rate in the 1970s.

Primary, middle and secondary schools are free and open to both boys and girls. Though boys enroll at a slightly higher rate than girls—99% versus 96.35%—the education system is well on its way to gender equality, in spite of the kingdom’s reputation for severe treatment of women.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan drives these advancements. Implemented under King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the plan aims to structure the kingdom’s social, political and fiscal future—and recognizes women’s potential to bolster the workforce. Many citizens have adopted this point of view, as well as the idea that all children, regardless of sex, gain greater opportunities to contribute as adults when they have access to quality education.

In service of these values, Vision 2030 aims to foster an educational environment congruous with the demands of the evolving job market. Schools also now prioritize students’ ability to meet personal goals.

Though public schools are divided by gender, leaders strive to improve and diversify the educational system for both girls and boys. The upcoming school year will bring an exciting new opportunity for girls in Saudi Arabia: physical education classes.

Some citizens of Saudi Arabia oppose women’s access to sports, as they are considered masculine activities, but many others are satisfied with the development. Hatoon al-Fassi, a Saudi women’s historian, anticipates that the motion will help girls to build bodily autonomy.

Advancements in girls’ education in Saudi Arabia have indeed empowered women to pursue their own potential. Beyond secondary school, many Saudi women earn advanced degrees. Data from 2015 shows that women account for 51.8% of students at Saudi Universities. Around 551,000 women are enrolled in undergraduate programs, with 24,498 in graduate programs and 1,744 pursuing PhDs. An additional 35,537 study abroad in 57 countries.

Women in Saudi Arabia faced many obstacles to get to where they are today. With the continued support of many citizens and leaders, the disparity between men and women is bound to dissolve.

Madeline Forwerck

Photo: Google

Learn about the Protecting Girls Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act.