Celebrating the girl child

11Oct 2021
By Valerie N Msoka
DAR ES SALAAM
The Guardian
Celebrating the girl child

“Everyone wins when children — and especially girls – have access to education. 

An educated girl is likely to increase her personal earning potential and prepare herself for a productive and fulfilling life, as well as reduce poverty in the whole community. ….” Angelique Kidjo, Benin, singer- and activist “

.. And the evidence shows that communities that give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons, they are more peaceful, they are more prosperous, they develop faster, they are more likely to succeed.” Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States of America 

“If we succeed in empowering girls, we’ll succeed in everything else.” Desmond Tutu, South African social rights activist.

In 1995, Getrude Mongella, popularly known in Tanzania as ‘Mama Beijing’ led the UN World Conference in Beijing where the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was unanimously adopted.

It is considered to be the progressive blueprint for advancing the rights of not only women but girls.

The Beijing Declaration is the first to specifically call out girls’ rights.

Sixteen years later, on December 19, 2011, United Nations General Assembly declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.

It is a day that focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face from abuse, physical and sexual

violence, exploitation, FGM, child marriage, various forms of discrimination and inequality. 

While every day should be a day of overcoming the various challenges that impede the girl child’s potential to succeed, 11th October reminds us of doing this as well as the necessity of promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment  of their human rights; action that focusses on education, equality, access to specialist health services and ending of gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices.

A day that also brings to attention emerging social, political and economic challenges and how these affect girls.

This year’s theme - "Digital generation. Our generation" is a recognition of the fact that while the the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital platforms for learning, earning and connecting, some 2.2 billion people below the age of  25 still do not have internet access at home with girls more likely to be cut off. 

Girls are also less likely than boys to use and own devices, and gain access to tech-related skills and jobs. Only by addressing the inequity and exclusion that span geographies and generations can we usher in a digital revolution for all, with all .

This year’s theme adds to the existing inequalities between boys and girls such as those on violence against children. In 2011, Tanzania launched a National Study on Violence against Children - giving national estimates on the magnitude of sexual, physical and emotional violence affecting girls and boys. 

It was the first African country to do so. Some of the findings informed that nearly 3 out of every 10 girls (27.9%) aged 13 to 24 years reported at least one experience of sexual violence prior to the age of 18. Trading sex for money or goods more prevalent among young girls with a history of childhood sexual violence. 

About 20% of girls reported having their first experience with some form of sexual violence when they are younger than 14 years.

While the study looked at children in general, the picture showed more vulnerability to the girl child. This reinforces the urgent need for the provision of a safe, educated, and healthy life, not only during these critical formative years, but also as they mature into women.

If effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world - both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, high tech experts and political leaders.

We see almost every day of girls breaking boundaries, creating a world that is relevant for them and future generations. This means an investment in realising their power upholds their rights today and promises a more equitable and prosperous future. 

A future in which half of humanity is an equal partner in solving the problems of climate change, political conflict, economic growth, disease prevention, and global sustainability.

There are more than 1.1 billion girls worldwide with great potential and this day serves as a reminder on the need to highlight and advance rights and opportunities for our girls and work to rid Tanzania of all outdated and harmful practices that hinders her reaching her potential. 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2015, embody a roadmap for progress that is sustainable and leaves no one behind. 

Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to each of the 17 goals. Only by ensuring the rights of women and girls across all the goals will we get to justice and inclusion, economies that work for all, and sustaining our shared environment now and for future generations. 

Worldwide, nearly 1 in 4 girls aged 15–19 years is neither employed nor in education or training compared to 1 in 10 boys of the same age. By 2021 around 435 million women and girls will be living on less than $1.90 a day - including 47 million pushed into poverty as a result of COVID-19. Emerging data shows that since the outbreak of COVID-19, violence against women and girls (VAWG), and particularly domestic violence, has intensified. 

At least 60% of countries still discriminate against daughter’s rights to inherit land and non-land assets in either law or practice.

The discrimination is not only on land issues but in most spheres. 

Ending all forms of discrimination against girls is not only a basic human right, but it also has a multiplier effect across all other development areas. Thus, empowering our girls and promoting gender equality from a young age so that all children embrace it, is crucial to accelerating sustainable development. 

As we celebrate the International day of the Girl Child, let us acknowledge that Tanzania has made strides in ighlighting the need for policies to safeguard our girls, the media is raising her voice and communities are acting.

The current slogan in Tanzania is, ‘Kazi Iendelee’, as such what more needs to be done by the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary? What needs to change as a country? What instruments need to be in place everywhere to protect and promote the Girl Child? Let’s work on these. 

In Tanzania we have a saying ‘Kila ndege huruka na mbawa zake’ which translates to every bird flies with its own wings. This is true if the wings are not cut off. 

Let’s give our children the opportunity to fly and more so to the girl child. And here to celebrate our Girl Child and cheer her onwards and upwards are some paragraphs of the poem, “I Pray For This Girl” Oh yes! For the young girlWho just landed on Mother Earth!The one about to turn five with a smile Or the other one who just turned nineShe is not only mine

My Mother’s, Grandmother’s Neighbour’s or friend’s daughter She is like a flower Very fragile, yet so gorgeous An Angel whose wings are invisible ….…I speak life to this young or older girl She might not have a say But expects the world to be a better place Whether affluent or impoverished No matter her state of mind Her background must not determine How she is treated Like others, she needs to live Indeed, she has to thrive! …

 

(Valerie N Msoka is a journalist, chairperson of the Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network (TECMN), TAMWA member and Editor of the Online Newsletter Binti Afrika Konnect)

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