By Ann Wambui
I have come to be thankful for the little things I have in life especially those that I assume to be just normal and deserving. Freedom to move around past dusk, the luxury to wear descent clothes, even having a phone while I was in high school and more so, the opportunity to go to school for education. As a young lady, I believe education and knowledge is the most powerful armor that can be given to a woman.
I traveled to the Southern part of Sudan for consultancies and while in the field I met many young girls and boys in both primary and secondary schools, whose mission and determination is to stay in school and pursue studies to higher levels. And I thought, “what great ambitions these children have.”
On October 11, I joined the world to celebrate the International Day of the Girl with the theme; A Skilled Girl Force and from this I can depict a number of ways that girls are being empowered to become independent and self-aware of their surroundings.
Sometimes I imagine the kind of woman my mum could have been now, had she had access to this information about knowledge and woman power. She definitely by far is the most amazing, strong, selfless, most kind person I know.
More often than not, I hear people raise their concerns about how the girl-child is being uplifted leaving the boy-child behind but in my honest opinion, I think both genders have been given the attention they deserve, except that when it comes to girls and women, it attracts more heads and this I think is basically because they are MORE vulnerable than boys. (I am not a feminist, I am just stating my personal opinion). Women are at a higher risk of exploitation more than boys, because they are “believed” to be double-the-need. For example, in the worst-case scenarios, girls are trafficked for sex, recreation and labor at the same time. However, this does not make it an excuse to not talk about the boys who are trafficked as well.
“In the next decade, one billion young people, 600 million of those are adolescent girls who will enter into the workforce, and approximately 90% of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector will low or no pay, abuse and exploitation”. UNICEF
Girls are affected greatly by circumstances for example, if a girl in whichever level of school gets pregnant, she has to take a break for a while to nurture the baby while during this time, the guy still moves around continuing with his education like nothing happened!
Days such as this (International Day of the Girl) are meant to remind girls in the society that they are people who have dedicated their time, effort and resources to give hope to young girls and providing them with necessary information about their needs and value. That they can be whomever they dream if being, with the right support system.
One day, we are in the field doing consultations in one of the secondary schools in Jonglei State, on the effects of children in armed conflicts and during my rounds I see two girls seated outside their classroom, chatting with smiles curved on their faces you could tell there is some juicy story cooking somewhere. I ask to take a photo of them, which they agree and afterwards one of them asks to share her experiences with me.
We indulge in a long chat, getting to know one another, sharing experiences of life and amidst it all, I realize she had lived in Kenya for a number of years and she went to Crater Primary School in Nakuru.
Despite all that “has been thrown at her” in life especially during the war conflict in South Sudan, she holds on to hope that one day, the sun will rise and there will be complete calm in the country, that all the people regardless of ethnic backgrounds will look at each other and smile, that children will no longer live in fear that something might happen to them while going to school or in school, that the displaced families will go back to their original homes and that there will be a new dawn in development, education, health and political stability.
I think women and girls need to encourage each other and not bring down another of their kind. Your experiences could be my source of strength or motivation to becoming a better person, knowing that if you did it, then so can I.
Through child participation activities, parents, teachers, caregivers and social workers are able to identify the interests of a particular child and encourage them positively from that point forward.
But also, as this day is marked, let us not forget that there is a huge task ahead of us to fight against Female Genital Mutilation, equality of shared services, child labor, sexual exploitation among other forms of violence. I hope that even as the Kenyan government pledged to provide sanitary towels to girls in schools, that this is indeed a long-term provision responsibility and that all schools in counties across Kenya get a share of the same. This will help in keeping girls at school during “that time of the month”, and run their activities and learning as normal.
Girls ought to know that there is no truth to any of the existing stereotypes that some work is designated for men only. With such sentiments, girls are advised to challenge these norms for example through developing interest in sciences at school which has been made possible through Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) program being run by Young Scientist Kenya.
For this year’s International Day of the Girl, UNICEF will co-work with girls more to expand learning opportunities and create new ones. For the organization, this day marks a year-long of collective effort with stakeholders and partners to identify, advocate for and invest in the pressing needs to achieve future employability.
I celebrate all the girls in this country, those who push themselves beyond the “nose”, those who dare to dream, those who fall but still rise and press on and those that have their bars raised high, with ambitions because a day will come and all will be great memories to look back at and celebrate.
The Day of the Girl was established by United Nations for the empowerment of and investment in girls, which are critical for economic growth, the achievement of all Millennium Development Goals, including eradication of poverty and extreme poverty, as well as the meaningful participation of girls in decisions that affect them, are key in breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and in promoting and protecting the full and effective enjoyment of their human rights,