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HACEY / Advocacy  / GIRL EMPOWERMENT

GIRL EMPOWERMENT

INTRODUCTION 

The planet earth has over seven billion people as its inhabitants with almost half of this number as females. Change-makers, as they can be called, is an integral part of the society and are popularly referred to as the ‘the gentle storm’. they are an important target group whose contributions to the development of the society have been applauded. This coupled with other reasons facilitated their inclusion in the sustainable development goals 2030. The reasons to focus on girl’s issues are compelling as they develop into women who are the sole determinant of the potency of the generations being birthed. Much attention must be showered on girls especially as the number of females involved in the delinquency in society continues to grow. Girls of various communities of the world have different living conditions, some having to develop and grow under ideal conditions while others experience poor care, degradation, pain, and reproach. This is unfair as every girl child is entitled to a care filled life and authentic development. For too long, underprivileged girls have been punished for being victims, for not being boys, and being misunderstood because girls’ development does not mirror that of boys. 

Young girls worldwide are subjected to endure and suffer challenges such as gender-based violence, lack of education, gender discrimination, victimization by social vices, early/forced marriage, search for identity, social and parental pressure, poor access to healthcare, drug/substance abuse, malnutrition/poor food intake, communication, bad parenting, life skills (communication, decision making, goal setting) low self-esteem, fear of failure, poor hygiene amongst others. All these pose a threat to her quality of life preventing the girl child from reaching her full potential. 

The 2003 and 2005 UNESCO report indicates that literacy among women is only 54% and Nigeria is still at the risk of not achieving the Education for All (EFA) goals. The likelihood that girls in rural areas get an education is still very low. This means that there are still a large number of girls who are illiterate, weak, backward and exploited 

The common factor is that they are all constrained by their reproductive responsibilities, societal norms, beliefs, customs and values by which societies differentiate between them and men (Kabeer, 2000). These constraints are shaped by male-dominated social structure (patriarchy), high rate of poverty among women, and gender division of labour. Nevertheless, focusing on the empowerment of girls as a group requires an analysis of gender relations, that is, how power relations between the sexes are constructed and maintained. In patriarchal societies like Nigeria, men have ultimate authority over material resources in the household, such as land and cash crops, and over the labour of women and other household members. Women’s level of education, poverty and men’s attitude towards women have over the years posed a serious threat to women’s participation in development. It is obvious that the level of education and economic conditions of women most often determine their level of participation in decision making both at family, community, state and national levels.  

 Researchers have achieved an increased understanding of the developmental pathways that may be leading girls to delinquency. Over the last decade, juvenile agencies and systems have begun to look at the needs of girls separate from those of boys. A research base now exists that describes how girls develop, what they need, who they are, and what risks they face because of gender. Taking this information, gleaned primarily from the educational and mental health arenas, juvenile justice practitioners have developed principles of gender-specific programming and “best practices” for working with girls. 

 Like female juvenile delinquents, women who commit crimes have been an invisible minority whose needs, histories, and issues have gone largely undocumented (Belknap, 1996). A recent increase in the female crime rate is drawing more attention to this population, just as increases in arrests of juvenile females are drawing attention to young female offenders. 

Although research on the causes of criminal behaviour in women remains scarce, many women currently serving sentences report that they can see a link between their adult offense and their history of sexual victimization, drug abuse, and prostitution (Belknap, 1996). For many of the women currently housed in prisons, these issues have gone unaddressed and untreated since childhood. 

The combination of these factors makes the timing appropriate to focus specifically on the needs of the girls of today, who will become the women of tomorrow. This encourages empowering young women to defend themselves, assert their rights, overcome abuse, aspire to rewarding and lucrative careers, and lead healthy, independent lives. Efforts to address these issues led to the adoption of various strategies towards making girls relevant in every sphere of life in society. 

One strategy that had gained currency over the years among scholars and practitioners of women and gender studies has been that of “girls empowerment”.  

WHY EMPOWER GIRLS 

The empowerment of girls is one of the most important concerns of the 21st century. In the 1970s when women empowerment was first invoked by the Third World feminist and women organizations, it was inexplicably used to frame and facilitate the struggle for social justice and women equality through a transformation of economic, social and political structures at national and international levels (Bisnath & Elson, 2003). The need to empower women seems to center on the fact that women have the potentials to contribute to the development process but are constrained by some factors that render them powerless. While the reasons for any particular woman’s powerlessness are many and vary, it may be necessary to consider what women have in common in this respect. 

Empowerment, therefore, requires an analysis of women’s subordination, the formulation of an alternative more satisfactory set of arrangements to those which exist. These can be achieved through the alleviation of the burden of domestic labour and childcare, the removal of institutionalized forms of discrimination, the establishment of political equality, improving the economic status of women, freedom of choice over childbearing, and taking measures against male violence and control over women (Molyneaux, 1985). In other words, empowerment requires the transformation of structures of subordination through changes in the law, property rights, and other institutions that reinforce and perpetuate male domination (Batliwala, 1994). This could be done by improving the educational, political and economic status of women to enable them to participate actively in development processes.  

If 50% of the global population suffers daily discrimination, increased risk of assault, and all kinds of other horrid problems just by being female, we can say that empowerment should be a top priority. The term empowerment originates from American community psychology and is associated with the social scientist Julian Rappaport (1981). Girl empowerment is essentially the upliftment of economic, social status of traditionally underprivileged girls in society. It involves the building up of a society where girls can breathe without the fear of oppression, exploitation, apprehension, discrimination, and feeling of persecution which goes with being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated structure. Empowerment is a multidimensional social process that helps people gain control over their lives. It is a process to foster power in people for use in their own lives, their community, and society at large. 

The continued persistence of girl’s problems in the areas of gender equality, gender roles, improved social status, etc., raises several questions about the empowerment strategies of governmental and non-governmental agencies. Are the strategies based on faulty theoretical assumptions? Is their application in the situation faulty? What is the problem of their application in the Nigerian context?  

Fundamentally, this is a human rights issue. Discrimination has no place in the 21st century, and every girl has the right to go to school, stay safe from violence, access health services, and fully participate socially in her community. Secondly empowered girls mean healthier families. When girls are educated, healthy, and empowered, families, are healthier. According to UNESCO, 2.1 million children under age 5 were saved between 1990 and 2009 because of improvements in girls’ education. And closing the gap in the unmet need for family planning for the 225 million girls and women who want to delay or avoid pregnancy but aren’t using modern contraception would reduce maternal deaths by 67% and newborn deaths by 77%. 

Also, empowered girls are keys to breaking the cycle of poverty for families around the world.  

Research has found that every additional year of school increases a girls’ eventual wages by an average of 12% – earnings she invests back into her family. Empowered, educated girls have healthier, better-educated children and higher wages –helping to break the cycle of poverty. 

Empowered girls strengthen economies.  

According to a new Brookings report, “Increasing the number of women completing secondary education by just 1 percent could increase a country’s economic growth by 0.3 percent.” Additionally, a report just released by the McKinsey Global Institute found that if women’s level of participation in the labour market was the same as men’s it would add up to $28 trillion to annual global GDP in 2025. Financial empowerment of women spurs economic growth within a country…which can lead to the country becoming more stable, reducing poverty, and becoming a bigger player in the global market. Having more bargaining chips on the table can help a country’s leaders make better deals with other governing bodies, as well as receive aid and support more effectively. Bottom line: More empowered women mean more safety and security 

 Better lives for men 

If women are empowered, that frees men from the pressure to be the primary wage-earner and shows little boys they can explore all aspects of who they are, without paying attention to roles that are traditionally “masculine” or “feminine.” Men will have more freedom to work part-time or take care of children, which frees them up for other more interesting activities. What’s the advantage of this? Society loosens up, and everyone is free to be who they truly want to be. 

Better literature! 

Two-thirds of the 774 million adult illiterates across the world are women. Imagine if the best book you’ve ever read was going to be written by a woman who hasn’t yet been taught to read? Women’s empowerment will lead to more journalism, better books and movies, and more interesting stories being told. As a kid who grew up with my nose in a book, this sounds like the best possible outcome for everyone  

More incredible inventions 

Women have been innovating and excelling in the fields of science and math for hundreds of years…despite facing harassment and discrimination, empowering girls means more women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Many empowered girls have made life-saving inventions for example pee-powered generator built by a group of 14-year-old girls in Nigeria and a Turkish girl who figured out how to turn banana to bioplastic. Another example is Ada Lovelace who invented the first computer program.More empowered girls then would automatically lead to more incredible inventions. 

Empowerment of girls results in saving the planet! 

If fertility rates continue the way they are now, scientists estimate the world’s population will swell to 10 billion by 2081. That’s 10 billion people competing for food, water, and other resources. One of the best ways to ensure that we live in a safe, healthy, and sustainable world is to support women who want reproductive healthcare and effective contraception. Nobody wants to worry about fighting for freshwater, and empowering women with voluntary family planning is a sure-fire route to a happier, healthier planet. 

We will see more and better food for everyone 

The vast majority (80%) of agricultural workers in the world are female. Empowerment to grow, buy, and sell the crops they want decreases undernourishment in producing countries and increases the amount of food available for export. Did you eat today? Thank a (female) farmer. 

Political empowerment means more and better policies 

When policymakers are mostly men, it seems like the needs of women (and a lot of other people) get thrown by the wayside. When women stand up in political forums, we get legislation that can save lives, protect young girls, and provide access to needed healthcare. If we want our daughters to have the care they need in the future, we need more women in political power now. Empowerment for everyone! 

Overturn nasty beauty standards that contribute to low self-esteem 

Everyone’s seen beauty magazines, with their focus on hairless, sculpted, unreal, bleached and plucked specimens of humanity…and that’s just the men. The current beauty standards teach everybody to hate them because they’re too fat, too hairy, too old, or just plain not airbrushed enough. If we’re willing to empower women to accept who they are and how they look (beautiful!), men will reap the benefits and stop having to worry about their appearances and feel bad too. Throw the beauty magazines away before we all feel ugly. 

HOW DO WE EMPOWER GIRLS? 

developing and adopting policies to prohibit gender bias in placement and treatment of young offenders,” and for “establishing programs to ensure that female youth have access to the full range of health and mental health services, treatment for physical or sexual assault and abuse, self-defense instruction, education in parenting, education in general, and other training and vocational services.” (Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, 1992) 

EDUCATION 

Education is a potent and indispensable tool in the emancipation and empowerment of girls. The greatest single factor which can incredibly improve the status of females in any society is education. It is indispensable that it enables them not only to gain more knowledge about the world but helps her to get status, positive self-esteem and self-confidence, necessary courage and inner strength to face challenges in life. It also facilitates the procurement of a job and supplements the income of the family and improves social status. Educated girls can play an equal role as boys in nation-building. Therefore, there is no denying the fact that education empowers girls. Literacy skills (reading and writing) would enable women to have a broader picture of the world at large. 

SAFE SPACE 

A safe space is a place where girls of same age group meet to discuss issues regarding their life. A safe space curriculum is structured in such a way that topics cover almost all aspects of a girl’s life. Create a safe space to talk about issues like reproductive health, gender equity and rights of women. Safe spaces would also enable them to be able to talk about the problems they face as girls, boost their self-esteem, confidence and helping them to be more comfortable about sharing their opinions. It also would help them acquire life skills (communication, decision making, and goal setting). 

JOB SKILLS AND SEED BUSINESSES  

A girl can be empowered by giving her support for economic independence and mobility through vocational and entrepreneurial training thereby increasing savings and income. 

ACCESS TO HEALTH SERVICES 

Youth-friendly/healthcare services where girls can get counseling and medical help without the fear of being judged by anybody. Girls usually need an adult to  

BUILD NETWORKS 

Girls that have been empowered would support greater opportunities to effect change in their respective communities. They can meet to create a network of activities targeted to reach other underprivileged girls to enable them also reach their full potential 

CREATE PUBLIC LEADERS 

Girls can also be empowered by training them on leadership. This would enable them to develop a sense of responsibility and belonging and can spur political interest in them. 

REFERENCES 

The challenge of women empowerment for sustainable development in Nigeria  

By Dr Florence Undiyaundeye 

Academic journal of Interdisciplinary studies 

MCSER Publishing Rome, Italy October 2013 

UNfoundationblog.org/5-reasons-why-empowering-girls-matters/ 

Wikipedia 

www.joe.org/joe/1999october.comm1.php 

www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation.aspx?paperID=24245 

https://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/principles/ch1_5.html

www.thefword.org.uk/2011/05/issues-young-girls-face 

http://www.unn.edu.ng/publications/files/images/Onyishi%20CN%20MSc%20Thesis.pdf

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