One of the most common questions we, GirlSPARKS, are asked is ‘why focus on girls?’.
Here are 3 reasons to prioritise girls in your community programming:
In communities around the world we see that there are often very limited resources to address the most pressing challenges, and can worry that by focusing our attention on girls then other groups might be left out. Yet we know that if we don’t maintain focus on girls their voices are often forgotten, and that programming that is intended for the whole community will have minimal impact for girls if their particular needs and priorities have not been considered.
In adolescence, the world expands for boys and shrinks for girls:
Adolescence is a crucial stage in everyone’s lives – bodies go through major biological changes, social roles and expectations transition as we begin to take on more adult responsibilities, and our ideas about the world and our place in it are starting to take shape (Sawyer et al., 2018).
We often see that this is also the stage of life where space for girls to be themselves starts to shrink – there are parts of their community they cannot access due to fear of harassment and violence, and activities they are no longer allowed to participate in as they take on additional responsibilities in the home, get married and become mothers. Every year 12 million girls are married before their eighteenth birthday (Girls not Brides, n.d.); 131 million girls worldwide are currently out of school (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2017); and almost 1 in 5 girls under 18 in the Global South give birth (World Bank Group, 2014). Girls around the world are not accessing their fundamental rights to education, health, opportunity and autonomy at the same rates as their male peers.
Accelerating girls to the same starting line:
Imagine that you are setting up a race for the school sports day. You position the children taking part along a starting line. But this starting line is not the same for everyone. Some are further back from the starting line than others, whilst others have obstacles in their path. When you shout ‘go!’ some of those children will have a much clearer, and shorter path to get to the finish line. Occasionally one of the children with obstacles in their path might make it to the front anyway – they run faster and with more stamina than anyone else and overcome those additional barriers. But just because they win the race it doesn’t mean the race was fair to begin with.
Gendered inequalities, and power imbalances in communities, often mean that girls are not at the same starting line as their peers, and have to face additional obstacles in their race to the finish. Think for example of the girls that miss out on days of school because of menstruation, or girls who are not allowed to participate in the same sports and activities as their brothers because of fears for their safety or additional responsibilities at home.
Ensuring your programming is girl-centred means you can identify what those additional obstacles might be for girls, and then plan for them. For example, perhaps you want to run youth groups for out of school adolescents but notice that not many girls are coming to the group. Taking a girl-centred approach would mean talking with girls to understand what they need in order to participate – perhaps the time of the group is wrong, maybe it is in a location that doesn’t feel safe, or maybe the content of the sessions doesn’t feel relevant to them. Listening to girls’ voices and prioritising their needs in the design of your programming will help girls to actively participate and contribute to the longer term sustainability of your programme.
Niger, February 15, 2014. Badariya Salou, 13, participates in the girls’ safe space in her village, part of the Sawki program. There, she and other teenage girls learn about life skills (respectful behavior, hygiene, basic financial management), healthy choices (nutrition, the risks of early childbirth), and their rights (education, marrying at a later age) from mentors — older teenage/young women.
When girls are prioritised, the whole community benefits
Creating a world where girls are equally valued, and their rights are respected, is a human rights priority. It also brings additional benefits for the communities girls are a part of. We know for example, that girls who have more access to education marry later and have fewer children, and that the lost opportunity cost for adolescent pregnancy is as high as 30 percent of GDP in Uganda (World Bank Group, 2014). Additionally, prioritising girls does not mean forgetting about boys – everyone will benefit from a more gender equitable world where responsibilities are shared and where restrictive ideas about masculinity are challenged, so that children growing up are free to be themselves and fulfill their own unique potential.
To find out more about GirlSPARKS please visit the website: https://girlsparks.org/
You can also sign up for the GirlSPARKS monthly community update here.
Girls Not Brides. n.d. About child marriage. Retrieved from https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/about-child-marriage/
Sawyer, S. et al. 2018. The age of adolescence. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 2(3).
UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), and Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR). 2017. “Reducing Global Poverty through Universal Primary and Secondary Education.” Policy paper 32/Fact sheet 44. Montreal and Paris: UIS and GEMR.
World Bank Group. 2014. Voice and Agency, Empowering Women and Girls for shared prosperity.