As the world marks this year’s International Women’s Day under the theme ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’, it is not lost on us that millions of girls and women around the world are facing a myriad of challenges posed by the pandemic.
The pandemic has hit communities hard, with women and girls bearing the greatest bruise marks. Women are carrying the brunt of the economic and social fallout from Covid-19.
Economic challenges pose a serious threat to young women’s work and business activity and expose them to increased risk of exploitation and abuse.
Girls and young women facing severe economic shocks are more likely to take on high-risk work for their economic survival.
This year’s International Women’s Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on what needs to be done to achieve gender parity.
Much has been done, but a lot more is needed to support the cause for gender equality.
Many organizations are committed to empowering women and girls. Bridge International Academies runs community schools in Kenya, providing affordable and quality education to the underserved communities.
The organization has a fully-fledged department of Gender and Child Empowerment, which ensures that women and girls are empowered to achieve their dreams.
Lillian Wamuyu is the Director of Gender and Child Empowerment at the organization.
She says that education is a means to achieving gender equality and the best tool to build girls’ and young women’s confidence and equip them with the skills they need to lead.
“At Bridge, we are committed to raising girls who are able to navigate a variety of social and cultural contexts, and who will remain committed to the development of their communities. All our community schools are set up to facilitate the growth of girls into thoughtful, responsible and resilient young women leaders,” says Lillian.
Bridge offers an equitable education that empower girls and boys and promote the development of life skills like self-management, communication, negotiation and critical thinking.
These are skills that young people need to succeed and build prosperity for their communities.
As the country grapples with the menace of teenage pregnancy which has been exacerbated by extended closure of schools due to Covid-19, the life skills that girls receive at Bridge have come in handy to prevent drop outs.
Lillian says, “Women and girls’ empowerment goes back to a school environment that allows young girls to be themselves, to feel comfortable to fail and learn from mistakes.
Consistently exposing girls to role models is a great way to promote empowerment and encourage girls – and boys of course! I also believe it’s important that girls are exposed to accomplished female role models. Telling young girls that it is possible is great, but showing them how it’s done is even better.”
Research has shown that investing in girls’ education transforms communities. Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives.
They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families.
On the contrary, girls who drop out are more likely to have children at a young age and are exposed to higher levels of violence perpetrated by their partner.
In turn, this affects the education and health of their children, as well as their ability to earn a living.
The world is home to more than 1.1 billion girls under the age of 18, who have the potential of becoming the largest generation of female leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers ever seen for the better future.
Yet, women and girls continue to face persistent constraints that prevent them from fully developing their potential and hinder their efforts of improving their lives as well as their households and communities.
According to Unicef, 132 million girls worldwide are out of school. The reasons are many. Barriers to girls’ education – like poverty, child marriage and gender-based violence largely contribute to this.
Poor families often favour boys when investing in education. Poverty, discrimination and exploitation keep millions of girls out of school. What’s more, half of all girls in developing communities don’t even finish primary school.
“There is an urgent need to put more girls back into the classroom and make them feel supported in the subjects and careers they choose to pursue, including those in which they are often under-represented. We also need to eradicate teaching practices that are not gender-responsive and that result in gender gaps in learning and skills development. This is what we have implemented at Bridge,” says Lillian Wamuyu.
This year’s International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women and girls, who are trailblazing in their communities. Women and girls who have rejected the generation apathy that says the boy leads and the girl follows, and that when a girl stumbles, it is her fault.
Supporting the cause for gender equality is not only women’s responsibility – it’s the responsibility of all of us. When we stand with women and girls, we affirm not only their right to be heard, but the power of diverse voices to support change for all people.