Guest post from Carron Basu Ray, (right) who coordinates Oxfam’s ‘My Rights, My Voice’ programme
The Ngorongoro area of Tanzania is regarded as the birthplace of humanity, a vast, strikingly beautiful part of the world. The Maasai pastoralists who live there are among the most marginalised people in the country and their children, especially the girls, have little access to quality education. I was in Tanzania a couple of weeks ago, meeting representatives from partner organisations and Oxfam colleagues who are implementing a dynamic education project that works with marginalised children and young people, their allies (parents, teachers, community leaders, etc) and many others on education issues and youth empowerment. The work is part of Oxfam’s eight country My Rights, My Voice global programme, funded by the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
I was lucky enough to spend some time with one incredible young Maasai woman who is trying to do something about the educational challenges facing her community. Rose (not her real name) is from the Ngorongoro area and is determined that every Maasai child, especially the girls, has access to a complete (primary and secondary) quality education, as she herself did. Rose works with one of Oxfam’s partner organisations, raising awareness about the importance of educating and empowering girls among members of her community – including the girls themselves, supporting their school attendance, and promoting gender equality.
Inspirational. Smart. Funny. Compassionate. Rose is a young woman who overcame the odds stacked up against her, who is now – what we in the development sector would refer to as – an ‘agent of change’ or ‘active citizen’. With supportive parents who fought many power struggles with her and through her hard work, perseverance and some lucky breaks along the way she completed her primary and secondary education, got a good job, chose whom she wanted to marry, and is now leading change and transforming the lives of girls and young women.
Most poor and marginalised girls and women in low income countries are not so lucky in completing a decent quality education and in having their rights respected. Girl’s primary school completion rates are below 50% in most poor countries and globally one in three girls is denied a secondary education. This has serious ramifications not only for every young girl’s life, but also for her family.
Rose and many other girls and women I have met and know are in my thoughts today, as they are most days. From the 16-year-old community carer looking after children who’d lost their parents to AIDS in Orange Farm, South Africa; to the eight-year-old girl I sat with one morning in Andhra Pradesh, India, who just wanted to go to school so she could write a letter to her father who was working away from home; to my 11-year-old niece in London whose passion for school and life knows no bounds. Every day is a day to reflect on the rights, needs, and aspirations of girls (and of course women).
But today (11th October) is also the first official UN Day of the Girl, which hopefully means a lot of people who don’t ordinarily think about some of these issues, will be made aware and take some time to reflect. A single day is fine, but not enough – we should be thinking about gender inequality and girls every day of the year. We can’t overcome poverty and suffering if we don’t fully address gender inequality, look at power relations and support women and girls in claiming their rights, working with men and boys to also fully realise, champion and safeguard these too.
Ending child marriage
The first Day of the Girl focuses on ending the practice of child marriage. About 10 million girls are forced or coerced into marriage before their 18th birthday every year. As the UN webpage explains, the theme of this year’s day was chosen because it is ‘a phenomenon that violates millions of girls’ rights, disrupts their education, jeopardizes their health, and denies them their childhood, limiting their opportunities and impacting all aspects of a girl’s life.’ Enough said.
To mark the day, Plan is launching its fantastic ‘Because I Am A Girl’ (BIAAG) campaign, which will bring to life the diverse and complex experiences girls face the world over. We are all aware of and (no doubt) fully signed up to the idea that a complete quality education transforms lives, leading to empowerment, opportunities and choices that would not otherwise have existed. Universal education can break the cycle of poverty in a family, community, society. The significance of this for girls is stark. Those who complete both primary and secondary education are more likely to be literate, healthy and survive into adulthood – as are their children. They are more likely to marry and have children when they themselves are no longer a child, are more likely to reinvest their income back into their family, community and country, and better able to understand their rights and be a force for change. The BIAAG campaign will work with girls, communities, traditional leaders, governments, global institutions and the private sector to address the barriers that prevent girls from completing their education. Thinking and talking about girls’ education seems particularly apposite in the week that 14-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai was shot in Pakistan for standing up for girls’ right to education.
As Rose and many, many other girls and young women I have met around the world have shown, empowered girls and women are transforming their lives, communities and countries. The world will be a better place for it.’
Duncan: and here’s Plan’s great BIAAG video (declaration of nepotism interest, it’s made by my sister-in-law, Mary Matheson)