In this passionate talk, Eve Ensler declares that there is a girl cell in us all — a cell that we have all been taught to suppress. She tells heartfelt stories of girls around the world who have overcome shocking adversity and violence to reveal the astonishing strength of being a girl.
Empowerment “amplifies their voices and broaden their hopes, turning small victories into large-scale changes” -Khadaroo
By empowering young women to become agents of change, we can break down historical and cultural barriers and invest in the untapped skills of those oppressed. As many would agree, education is key; the futures of many young African women are dependent on their access to primary and secondary education.
Such education gives them confidence to stand up and make a change, to start conversations with parents, teachers, and religious leaders about the need to invest in girls. In Malawi, women have taken a stand against child marriages. In Liberia, there is the Children’s Law, which guarantees the rights of health care and education. Girls and women bear the brunt of poverty, but we can transform their societies by providing social entrepreneurship.
Let Girls Lead offers training and support to foster a movement of global girl power. This includes campaigning to raise the national marriage age to twenty-one and promoting literacy in rural communities. Let Girls Leads’ support of over six hundred grass-roots organizations helps provide training and services to social entrepreneurs. In order to reform discriminatory policies and laws, we must examine the cultural and legal barriers to systematic change (Let Girls Lead). At the very least, we must begin to understand how to create change and implement new policies that provide women with the necessary means for success.
As education rates in Africa have increased, there has been a decrease in HIV infection among the educated, supporting that through training and services, improvements can be made. But, the rising cost of education has made it difficult to continue empowering young girls in Africa. Many suggest that African governments need to invest in more primary and secondary education, thereby laying a solid foundation for HIV prevention efforts.
Action Aid International states that formal education can influence vulnerability to HIV in five different ways:
- Expose girls to HIV and AIDS education, which helps prevent HIV.
- Provide psychosocial benefits for young women, helping them to build their self-esteem and capacity to act
on HIV prevention messages.
- Lead to better economic prospects, which in turn lead to lifestyle changes that can influence HIV vulnerability.
- Influence the level of power within sexual relationships.
- Affect the social and sexual networks of girls.
Many programs for the empowerment of women are not-for-profit, such as the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). A key concern of the African education sector today is ensuring that education programs equip young Africans with the ideal combination of knowledge and practical skills for the transition to productive adult life.
Empowering Kenyan Women
Throughout Kenya’s history, women have been subjected to rights abuses while bearing an overwhelming amount of responsibilities (FSD). Currently, women in Kenya do the vast majority of agricultural work and produce/market the majority of food. Yet they earn only a fraction of the income produced and own almost nothing (FSD). Conventional ideas about the roles of girls and women restrict their contributions to the Kenyan society. Women in Kenya are underrepresented in decision-making positions and therefore have less access to education, land, and employment. The country’s new Constitution, passed in 2010, provides a powerful framework for addressing gender equality. It marks a new beginning for women’s rights in Kenya; seeking to remedy the traditional exclusion of women and promote their full involvement in every aspect of growth and development (USAID).
USAID’s programs attempt to attain rights for all by:
- Creating safe societies where women and girls can live free from violence;
- Providing care and treatment services for victims of gender-based violence;
- Strengthening women’s access to resources and opportunities that will allow them to share more broadly in the benefits of economic growth;
- Increasing the participation of women in decision and policy-making at all levels;
- Ensuring women a seat at the table in peace-building, conflict prevention and mitigation; and
- Narrowing gender gaps in education and learning.
Action Aid has a similar program that aims to:
- Secure basic rights for women and girls
- Access and control of land and natural resources
- Accountability at all levels
- Disaster management and resilience building
We place women and girls at the center of our work with the knowledge that gender equality is not only key to poverty eradication but also women’s rights in and of themselves must be promoted and protected. –Action Aid
Fatima speaks from experience about the difference an education makes to girls, about the barriers she has overcome, and how, as a member of the pan-African CAMA alumnae network, she is multiplying the benefits of her education. Fatima provides health information to communities, and speaks on diverse platforms to encourage other young women from poor backgrounds to seek education and develop as leaders.