Girls want to have their voices heard and equal opportunity to reach their full potential

Sunday 11 October 2020

Girls want to have their voices heard and equal opportunity to reach their full potential 

By Laura Jepson-Lay

Deputy Country Director for Program Development & Quality, Save the Children in Somalia

 

During a recent visit to Puntland, I met with a shy yet inspiring group of young girls, including 10-year-old Amira*, in their school in Garowe, one of 20 schools in our Norad-funded education programme implementing the Girl Leaders initiative. “We are seven girls in this group and we advocate for the rights of girls in our school. We talk with the other girls in the school to understand their challenges and what support they need,” says Amira.

Somalia is one of the worst countries in the world for gender equality. It is a strongly patriarchal society with deeply rooted gender discriminatory social norms. As such, women and girls are less likely to receive an education, and are at increased risk of gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices, such as Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage.

The COVID-19 pandemic, like any crisis, has reinforced many of these gender gaps and exacerbated the issues and risks they face. There are concerns that 10-15% of students may never return to school following the resumption of learning across Somalia, and the majority of these will be from traditionally excluded groups, especially girls, who make up only 28% of students at secondary school level (age 16-18)[1] as they are increasingly required to take up responsibilities at home.

Every morning, Amira wakes up at 5am to help her mother do chores. “After I finish my chores I go to school at 7am and when I finish my classes I go back home and help my mother again,” Amira says. “Boys have better chances to study than girls. I have two brothers; they wake up 7am, eat their breakfast, and go to school. On Fridays they rest and don’t do anything, while girls clean the house and wash clothes. Unless my mother asks them, they don’t help me.”

As such, the Girl Leader initiative plays a vital role in empowering girls to support each other and their peers, to have their voices heard, and seek support from parents and teachers in order to reduce the risk of girls dropping out of school early.

As we sit together in their classroom, she tells me: “One day, I saw my neighbour was not coming to school any more. He was a young boy, like my age, so I decided to talk to his mother. He is now attending the school and I am happy I could support both girls and boys to learn”. I was moved by how this small girl could show such courage and as a result have a positive impact on another child’s life. Indeed, I’m always in awe of the children we work with, and their passion and conviction to demand for social change to improve the lives and futures of children in their communities, as well as their own. 

Amira concluded: “To be who I want to be, I want to have my own voice and represent myself.” This International Day of the Girl, under the theme of ‘My Voice, Our Equal Future’, let’s seize the opportunity the amplify the leadership and actions of girls, like Amira, to enable them to reach their full potential.  

 

 

 

 


[1] UNICEF: Education in Somalia http://www.unicef.org/somalia/education.html