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“I am 17 years old. In the relief camp, when I was sleeping in the night, I was raped. I did not know what had happened to me. I do not know the face of the man. I had heavy bleeding…now I see some disturbances in my body and when my mother took me to the hospital, I was told I am pregnant”.

This is what a young girl from Tamul Nadu in India experienced after a tsunami devastated her hometown. Like her, millions of other girls in developing countries are the hardest hit by disasters in comparison with other segments of the population. Not only do women receive non-preferential treatment during emergency rescues, but they are also at a greater risk of sexual exploitation, child marriage, and being deprived of an education.

According to a report released by Plan International, a child rights NGO, girls fare far worse during disasters than the rest of the population. Given their gender, age, and humanitarian status, girls and women experience a triple disadvantage during crises since pre-existing inequalities and vulnerabilities are exacerbated.

In this way, a 14-year-old girl in a slum will experience a flood or an earthquake differently from a 14-year-old boy in the same situation. Such is the case of a son and a daughter who were swept away by a tidal surge in a cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1991. The father of these children is cited as saying that he could not hold on to both and had to release his daughter because “his son had to carry on the family line.”

In other cases, adolescent girls and women are driven to sell sex because they have no alternative to feed themselves and their children. “I don’t work. I don’t have parents to help. So, for around a dollar, you have sex just for that…it’s not good to do prostitution, but what can you do?” said Gheslaine, who lives in a camp in Croix-de-Bouquets in Haiti.

Disasters also lead to an increase in child marriages. Research in Somaliland, Bangladesh and Niger found that child marriage is often used as a community response to crises in which girls are sold for income and food. In Niger, girls are taken out of school, wed and impregnated at the age of 13. Many of them suffer from fistula (a rupture between the birth canal and bladder caused by prolonged obstructed labor) and die.

One of the least prioritized issues during disasters is facilitating education for girls. Although most families would rather continue education for boys rather than girls, girls who receive an education are more likely to be healthy, marry later in life, and survive into adulthood. In fact, it is one of the most important determinants of practically all desired outcomes related to the Millennium Development Goals, from poverty reduction, to reduced infant mortality rates, and to enhanced democratization.

Despite the evidence that confirms that the empowerment of women has a transformative power in all types of societies, this study reveals that the rights to protection, education, and participation are still not granted to most women and girls, especially during crises.

– Nayomi Chibani
Feature Writer

Sources: IRIN, Plan International
Photo: UNHCR

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Young girls in underdeveloped countries all over the world occupy a crucial position in the overall equation of global poverty. Because the majority of these girls lack a significant amount of education, and are strictly bound by cultural principles like child marriage, they have little ability to make any decisions for themselves, and often find themselves facing sexual violence and pregnancy at a young age.

There is an estimated 250 million girls living in poverty today. In places in South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, 1 out of every 8 girls is subjected to a child marriage, and 1 out of every 7 girls give birth before the age of 17. Infant and maternal mortality is very common in cases of child marriage because of the significant lack of resources and education in these underdeveloped countries.

Education is intrinsically linked to these young girls who otherwise could encounter a child marriage. Without education young girls are subject to others who make decisions for them.

Providing adolescent girls with proper education would supply them with the skill set necessary to choose healthy paths for their lives. If primary education were required for all girls living in South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa there would be 14% fewer child marriages. If all of these girls also received secondary education there would be 64% fewer girls bound in marriages at a young age.

It is economically wise to invest in the education of young girls as primary education has been proven to increase a girls’ future wages. The problem is many of the regions in which poor adolescent girls live devalue their lives. Patriarchal values have a very dominant presence, making it easy for young girls to follow in the steps of cultural tradition despite how much it inhibits their own futures.

Educating young girls would teach them to resist the pressures of a society that urges them into early marriages. Education would also prepare girls to confront situations and injustices where they are being taken advantage of. Girls would be better equipped to stand alongside other women and fight for their right to education, just as Malala Yousafzai did, her example now an act of heroism and inspiration for girls everywhere.

Supplying young girls in impoverished countries with a quality education would have a significant impact on the current state of poverty, introduce a major decrease in infant mortality, and promote a healthier and more empowering environment for young girls to thrive.

– Chante Owens

Sources: The Guardian, Reuters
Photo: Educate a Child

How Climate Change Has Impacted GirlsClimate change has brought about droughts, unpredictable rainfall, and floods which affect every region, gender, and race. However, girls have been affected greatly by the impact of this climate change. Families who live off of their land are forced to take their girls out of school so they can make up for the income lost due to climate change. Droughts and flooding have impacted these farmers and their crops. To make up for the lost income they send their wives or daughters to be daily wage laborers.

Anju Dewraja, a 15-year-old from Tami-heruwa village in northeastern India, has been greatly affected by climate change. Her family used to live comfortably, but after a string of bad harvests over the past five years, her father pulled her out of school. Dewraja now works at home while her mother has a job as a daily wage laborer. Dewraja knows she will not be returning to her education because her family needs her more in the home. However, her brother still gets to continue his education.

Thousands of families are forced to remove their daughters from school, and the number of cases is growing rapidly. As climate extremes such as floods and droughts become more frequent, girls are being stripped of their opportunities to education and a better life.

“In hundreds of households women are now compelled to take up weaving, daily wage labor, and other related activities to make ends meet, and in many areas, women of the household are also taking up fishing to make up for the lost agriculture produce,” said Sabita Devi, co-convener and senior researcher of the Assam-based Center for Environment, Social, and Policy Research.

Women form a disproportionately large share of the poor in countries all over the world. They are more likely to live in rural areas and depend on natural resources for their livelihood. In several countries, women are not seen as equals to men and are therefore not afforded the same opportunities they are. Climate change is only making it harder for these girls to raise themselves out of poverty through education.

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: Alertnet World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts UN WomenWatch
Photo: Flickr

95% Discount on HPV Vaccines for Girls in Poverty

HPV vaccines costing an average of $130 a dose in the United States will now be offered in poor countries for as low as $4.50 a dose, a monumental step made possible by the generous and focused work of the GAVI Alliance. These vaccines help prevent strains of human papillomavirus, or HPV, that cause almost 75% of cervical cancers.

According to GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, the two pharmaceutical companies offering these deeply slashed prices, more than 85% of cervical cancer deaths occur in the developing world. “We hope that this will help reduce the burden of cervical cancer and positively impact future generations,” said GSK President and General Manager Christophe Weber in a press release. GSK already supplies 80% of its total vaccine volume to developing countries.

The GAVI Alliance, formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, was launched under a generous donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 1999; the Alliance works to partner charitable donations with private pharmaceutical companies by negotiating significantly lower vaccine costs for countries in need. This model has allowed over 370 million children to receive immunizations since GAVI’s founding.

In the next few months, GAVI will provide support to countries worldwide by carrying out demonstration programs that raise awareness among the vaccination target group — pre-adolescents — which will allow countries to incorporate the vaccine into their own immunization programs.

– Naomi Doraisamy

Sources: GAVI Alliance, Merck
Photo: Polifaso