International Day of the girl child is celebrated annually since 2012.
It’s a day intended to celebrate the feats made in empowering girls by ensuring a widespread knowledge on women’s rights, to allow with girls to easily navigate the world in which they live.
This is necessary because the world is generally not a safe space for women and girls. There are concerted efforts made towards bettering the world for women, in many countries.
So October 11, is the day to take stock and consider ways forward, while commending the achievements and accomplishments that have been experienced thus far. ‘Stock taking,’ evaluation and reflection are critical to ensure appropriate results as well as outcomes to produce.
The theme of this years’ Day of the Girl Child was “GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable.” It has been 25years since the conference popularly referred to as ‘Beijing’. UNICEF states that 25 years ago, 30,000 women and men from close to 200 countries attended the 4th World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing.
At the core of the conference was the zeal to have women’s rights recognised as human rights. At the end of the conference, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action were adopted.
These remain, even to date, the most comprehensive policy agenda for the empowerment of women. It led to a global move of women led movements advocating for and demanding the recognition of their rights, ranging from sexual and reproductive rights to equal pay in workplaces.
This work has, over the years, expanded to work related to and directly impacting adolescent girls. Advocacy on various issues on sexual reproductive and health rights of adolescents, child marriages, access to education, as well as gender-based violence and climate change, as they affect adolescent girls in various contexts have been embarked on, in different country contexts. Projects have yielded positive results in many instances, and yet there is still so much more work that needs to be done.
Pivoting adolescent’s rights violations is unhealthy power relations, anchored in patriarchy. Although this has previously been explored in this column, there is need for it’s re-visitation in the context of adolescent girls.
Although a lot of transformative work has been conceptualised, many of the commitments made to girls remain unfulfilled, with no agenda to improve this status quo.
In fact, the growing problems of the world appear to affect girls more adversely than all other constituencies or communities in any given area.
Girls remain vulnerable and are weakened positionally, by the increasing economic inequality amongst other factors. In Botswana, the greatest abuses faced by adolescent girls are gendered violence which often results in early and unplanned pregnancy, sex-work, forced sex, a decreased self-esteem as well as a decreasing space to negotiate oneself as a valid individual.
The above often causes trauma which may go unresolved, impacting the future of girls. Botswana’s 2018 Relationship Study illustrates that in fact the people in the latter ages of adolescence are the most affected by gender-based violence.
Although there are programmes aimed at addressing the above, in efforts to reduce incidents of abuse, unfortunately, there are persisting cultural practices, exclusions as well as stereotypes that make it impossible for the challenges to be overcome.
It is ripe therefore, at this juncture to remind Botswana of her commitments in Beijing.
l Eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls.
l Eliminate cultural attitudes and practices against girls.
l Promote and protect the rights of girls and increase awareness of their needs and potential.
l Eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training.
l Eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition.
l Eliminate the economic exploitation of child labour and protect girls at work.
l Eradicate violence against girls.
l Promote girls’ awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life.
l Strengthen the role of family in improving the status of girls.
This year, in a few weeks, the Beijing Plan of Action will be evaluated in efforts to interrogate how far we have come. Leading up to our elections, it is important too, to consider this, and wisely engage with our candidates on the extent to which we have carried out our commitments and efforts made towards sustaining the efforts and ensuring the protection of girls.
That said, it is acknowledged that there are efforts being made to empower young people, in digital skills training. Although this is not political party initiative it is acknowledged ought to be acknowledged as partial fulfilment of ensuring the inclusion of girls in education, skills development and training.
Technology being the future, mainstreaming it’s use to innovatively solve problems and fill gaps is most definitely applaudable.
Secondly, Eseng Mo Ngwaneng campaign, building on the shoulders of work that is being done by Women Against Rape and other local NGOs provides a platform for adolescents to engage on matters that affect them.
Finally, providing pads to schoolgoing girls, to increase girls’ access to schools is an amazing initiative which sees girls’ plight and meets the needs therein. These and many others are cause for celebration, soberly, knowing that the fight continues.