First lady of the United States, Michelle Obama recently set social media ablaze with her strong messages to girls about the power of an education. “It is part of my passion and my mission to make sure that every girl on the planet has the same opportunity that I had… I want you to be that hungry to get your education because it is going to be the key to your future,” she said. I can’t agree more. Empowering girls is also my passion + mission.
During the past year, I was in Nigeria and had the opportunity to work with adolescent girls on issues pertaining to their health and development. I saw firsthand the realities that girls in poor communities face. In September, I was privileged to host (as part of my work with Action Health Incorporated) a state-wide high-level dialogue in Lagos State to catalyze support for advancing the health, education, and livelihood of out-of-school adolescent girls living in Lagos slums. Many distinguished public and private sector guests including three-term member of the Nigerian House of Representatives Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa and the Permanent Secretaries of the Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation and Youth and Social Development attended the event. The event was a response to findings from research conducted by AHI in Iwaya and Makoko – two of Lagos state’s largest and well-known slums. The research revealed that there are over 480 girls who are out-of-school in those communities, and many of these girls’ lives are being severely compromised as a result of poor sanitary conditions, limited access to health services, poor social networks and lack of education to name a few.
Many barriers prevent girls from enrolling and staying in school. These barriers include supplemental costs of uniforms and school supplies, distance of schools from the home/lack of transportation, and lack of parental and community support for girl-child education. Sadly, many parents/guardians often prioritize girls’ labor over their learning as a result of poverty, which demands their daughter’s participation in generating quick income for family survival. This inability to attend school places girls at risk of many personal and social ills, including illiteracy, early pregnancy, harassment, violence, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Girls who are not educated are a threat to the economic and social stability of a country. Like every human being, a girl’s power lies in her ability to contribute actively to the social and economic advancement of her family and society.
On Sunday, October 11, the world will be celebrating International Day of the Girl Child, a day declared by the United Nations “to raise awareness of the situation of girls around the world” and to galvanize local and global support to help girls reach their full potential. This year, in honor of my work in Nigeria and for the over #62MillionGirls who are not in school, I am asking you to join me in elevating girls as follows:
A Call to Action:
- Support evidence-based programs for out-of-school adolescent girls tailored to meet their needs
- Provide opportunities for out-of-school adolescent girls to gain formal and informal education through facilitating their entry into school and/or vocational training programs
- Inform members of your community about the value of an empowered girl
- Support the creation and enforcement of policies that protect adolescent girls from sexual harassment, violence, and exploitation
- Empower girls in your family and community with age-appropiate sexual and reproductive health information and livelihood skills so that they can take control of their bodies and lives
I appreciate you for reading and invite you to share the current issues/challenges that girls in your community face in the comments space below. Let’s help girls be great!