Wednesday, June 24, 2009

World Economic Forum: Progress Across Africa Depends on Girls

This month girls were the focus at the World Economic Forum on Africa to highlight what is working in the region and what still needs drastic improvement. Girls make up more than 75% of HIV positive youth in Africa and those numbers are not decreasing. Young girls face tremendous challenges throughout childhood and adolescence with high drop out rates, early marriage, early pregnancy, and minimal access to medical care.

While staggering statistics and painful stories are often the images sent out of Africa, I was delighted to hear that the international community is acknowledging and discussing the crucial role girls play in economic development! Finally, influential people with the power to make real change are talking solutions to some of the world's biggest problems and they are finally focusing on girls.

The panelists highlighted the importance of investing in "The Girl Effect" which is no new news. The research documents that investing in girls provides exponential returns - girls will do more with the resources offered to them and invest more into the health and education of their family and community.

The forum emphasized that...
  • Investing in girls is smart economically
  • Economic solutions are often masked by culture
  • Girls must be reached before age 12 to have an impact
  • Girls won't count until we count them
  • A little bit of support is not enough
I just got back from a semester abroad in Kenya (the girls in the photo are from my village in Bodo, Kenya!) and I feel that the forum is right on with focusing on these issues but I often struggle with serious questions surrounding foreign aid and assistance coming from the West: how can we truly empower young girls and women if the solutions are derived outside of the country and outside of the context?

Of course there are critical impacts we can make from the West in terms of our top-down aid and supportive policy, but I would like to see increased support of more homegrown, or bottom-up responses that encourage girls to come up with their own solutions to the problems that directly impact their lives - they are our greatest resource for information and implementation.

Poverty, illness and women's role in both, are entirely cyclical and trying to combat the cycle at only one juncture is simply illogical. We need a multifaceted approach that is solidly based in evidence and has clear pathways for evaluation and accountability.


princesssmeen said...

I find it astonishing that girls comprise 75% of HIV-positive youth. Why do you think that is? Is the cause the lack of testing among men and boys? Or are there just fewer men?(These questions clearly exclude homosexual activity among girls because of the lower percentages of homosexual sexual activity in proportion to heterosexual sexual activity.)

Danielle said...

Girls are physically and economically more vulnerable to acquiring HIV. When girls are impoverished, they may resort to sex work for income. Their bodies tear more easily when forced into sexual activity, which heightens their risk of contracting the virus.

Hot. Mess.

Jenna said...

Thank you so much for writing this article and for sharing "the girl effect" page with us. I just got back from Senegal and believe more than ever, that female empowerment is the key to solving development issues.