50 days for girls and women

50 Days Campaign Comes to a Close, But Work Continues

 By Danielle Roth, ChildFund Youth Program Officer

The 50 Days of Action for Women and Girls is coming to a close. On ChildFund’s blog, we’ve shared stories about our work with women and girls in several of the countries where ChildFund works.

Kenyan girls

These 12-year-old girls attend school in Kenya. Our aim is to help more girls and young women receive an education. Photo by Jake Lyell.

We’re reminded that women and girls, who make up more than half of the world’s population, are resilient in the face of tough challenges like forced marriages, lack of access to lifesaving health services and medicine, lack of political freedom and limited access to education, among many additional obstacles.

ChildFund is part of a larger effort to support women and girls in the United States and abroad. Networks like the Coalition for Adolescent Girls and Girls Not Brides work tirelessly to assure that women’s and girls’ concerns are elevated to the attention of decision-makers like President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. In addition, many organizations are engaging with the United Nations to ensure that women and girls are recognized in the Post-2015 development agenda.

We encourage ChildFund’s supporters to continue to add their voices to advocacy efforts for girls and women.  For example, if you have a blog, share stories and important data on the well-being of women and girls around the world. On your Facebook and Twitter accounts, share relevant news stories with your friends and followers.

At ChildFund, we know that women and girls’ challenges are global issues and invite you to support us going forward. For now, we reflect on the 50 Days campaign with an apt quotation by poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

Caribbean Youth: All We Need Is Love

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered and safe — no matter where they live. This week’s theme is protecting human rights and promotion of leadership participation.

Dominican youth

Dominican youth gathered for a four-day workshop that promotes self-confidence and civic engagement.

Violence, drug addiction and abusive households cause great suffering in Caribbean societies. In Dominica and St. Vincent, ChildFund’s work aims to give children and teens, as well as their parents, a firm foundation to live empowered, happier lives. 

In April, 40 Dominican teens and young adults participated in a four-day workshop as part of the “All We Need Is Love” project, which is set to last three years. The participants, age 13 to 27, were nominated by their peers as potential leaders and role models.

Dominican youth

Participants created journals, were interviewed by local media and were trained in working with peers and younger children.

“All We Need Is Love” offers activities that encourage teens and young adults to become leaders and set goals, as well as share these lessons with younger children. Because they lack employment opportunities, teens sometimes get discouraged, drop out of school, join gangs or become pregnant. Youth groups that offer training and encouragement can do a lot to provide hope to younger generations.  

The program has four goals. Show young people how to:

  1. Love themselves.
  2. Make healthy choices.
  3. Promote positive changes in their communities.
  4. Start their own civic projects.

    youth group

    The 40 youth ambassadors will have the opportunity to start centers that give teens a safe place to meet.

The 40 youth ambassadors received training on how to work with their peers, and they’ll receive ongoing support from adults as they seek to create community centers and other spaces where youth can meet. College and graduate students from the United States — Virginia’s James Madison University and Boston College in Massachusetts — served as interns and volunteers to assist the program, along with Australian Volunteers for International Development.

An Early Marriage Averted: Kadiatu’s Story

Reporting by ChildFund Sierra Leone

For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered and safe — no matter where they live. Ending early and forced marriage is this week’s theme.

Sierra Leone girl in school uniform

School has been a refuge for Kadiatu.

In 2005, at the age of 10, Kadiatu was enrolled in ChildFund’s programs serving the Daindemben Federation in her Sierra Leonean community. With support from her sponsor to pay for school fees and learning materials, Kadiatu eagerly embraced the educational opportunities available to her.

But when she reached junior secondary school, Kadiatu’s father decided to remove her from school and give her in marriage to a middle-aged man in the village. ChildFund and its local partner intervened on Kadiatu’s behalf, standing firm to ensure that her father’s decision was overturned. The marriage was cancelled, and Kadiatu continued her schooling. But her father withdrew all support. Her mother has died long ago and her stepmother showed no love to her.

Without ChildFund sponsorship and the support of Daindemben Federation, Kadiatu would have had nowhere to turn.

girl sitting on bench near her home

“I have no fear now. I can continue my education.”

Today, Kadiatu, 18, is in senior secondary school preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination. She credits ChildFund and Daindemben Federation for restoring her hope and believes she would have been the mother of two or three children by now had it not been for the intervention of the federation. “Daindemben has made me realize my importance and value in society,” she says.

Now she is determined to go all the way to university to study accounting. “I want Daindemben Federation and my sponsor to be proud of me. They have done so much to get me to where I am today. I don’t want to let them down,” she says. “Even my father is proud of me now,” she acknowledges. “He has regretted the action he had wanted to take then.

“I would like Daindemben Federation and my ChildFund sponsor to continue being my pillar, so that I will achieve my dream of becoming an accountant.”

Read more about ChildFund’s work to prevent early marriage.

50 Days: Keeping Women and Girls Healthy

 By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered, and safe — no matter where they live. Improving the Health of Women and Girls is this week’s theme.

Senegalese mother and daughters

Sadio and her twins, Awa and Adama.

Visiting the doctor is usually a mild inconvenience in the United States. It may entail a drive across town and a sit in a waiting room filled with people coughing and sneezing. But in Senegal, which has only 822 doctors serving a population of more than 12 million, seeking medical attention is a major undertaking.

For some families, it’s too much. Sadio is the mother of 2-year-old twin girls in the village of Pakala, which is often flooded during the rainy season. This makes it difficult to travel 6 kilometers (more than 3 miles) to the nearest health post staffed by nurses. Awa and Adama suffer from respiratory problems, and Adama is especially sickly, having come down with a debilitating cold that required a doctor’s care — a 30-mile journey from home to a hospital. 

Senegal health hut

A health hut in a Senegalese village.

Sadio and her husband Moussa, a farmer, have experienced loss before; their first child, Matar, died in 2007 at 13 months from diarrhea and a respiratory infection. But today their village has a health hut, which is staffed by a matron, community health workers and birth attendants. They can help patients with basic needs, but more complicated illnesses and ailments still call for a trip to the health post 3 miles away or 30 miles to the hospital.

Sadio reports that her diet improved during her pregnancy with the twins after receiving advice at the health hut, but her girls still face challenges from the respiratory infection; also, they were born underweight.

Senegal mother and children

Sadio, the twins and their 4-year-old brother, Assane.

The health of women and girls is important to ChildFund, as we work with local partners to provide access to health care in isolated villages as well as underserved urban areas in developing nations. In Senegal, ChildFund is leading the implementation of a $40 million grant from USAID to establish community health care services for children and families in great need.

Over five years, we plan to establish 2,151 health huts and 1,717 outreach sites throughout the country, along with a sustainable national community health policy working in partnership with USAID and other key community development organizations. By the end of the project, we expect to have helped more than 9 million Senegalese people in 72 districts.

Children Are the ‘Third Gender’

By Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean

For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered, and safe – no matter where they live. This week’s theme focuses on preventing gender-based violence, which often starts with the most vulnerable – children.

Two years ago, I walked into Rapid City, S.D., airport and I saw my maternal grandma’s face that I love so much seemingly peering at me from these huge black-and-white photos of former Native American chiefs – it was the same bone structure, the same wide forehead and the same intensity of resilient stare. I remember smiling at the portraits with a nostalgic sense of love and recognition before hurrying to catch up with my ChildFund colleagues.

This year, I walk into the airport in Dakar, Senegal, and I see these sculpted, lean bronzed, dignified warrior-like bodies of my step-grandfather – my grandma’s husband – and I smile and ache with that same sense of instant love and recognition. I think to myself: our people of the Caribbean truly are the “melting pot,” influenced and built by so many races – Native Americans, African slaves, Indian and Syrian indentured laborers, Hispanics, French, English and Portuguese – all blending to make up my world, my genealogy and my heritage.

In South Dakota, we heard from our U.S ChildFund colleagues how teenagers in Native American communities were committing suicide at such a frequent rate that their parents were more consumed by mourning than cherishing their children who are still alive. Their recounting of these ongoing tragedies became unbearable to me when I learned that children as young as 5 years old were killing themselves for various reasons, including hopelessness and abuse and after witnessing it happening all around them to their siblings, extended relatives, schoolmates and community friends.

I left the U.S. not being able to internalize or envision the inner thoughts and external situations that would lead a young child to decide not to remain here with the rest of us.

liberation statue

Gelina later noticed  that the child representative is missing in the liberation statue. “Often the child does not get his or her share of the story unless given a voice by organizations like ours,” she notes.

I had shelved that discomfort until I walked into one of the first transatlantic slave houses in West Africa on Senegal’s Goree Island. Our guide took us to the statue honoring the first slave liberation in 1802 by the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, and I was proud to know that we islanders had shown the first demonstration of humanity and common sense by abolishing slavery.

shackles and chains

The historic site is a witness to suffering.

The guide then took us to the slave holding compound – a preserved structure from centuries before and empty of the spirits of those once held in captivity. We went through the various rooms where men were weighed and measured for strength, where young virgins were holed in, where slaves were shoved into claustrophobic “time-out” 3-foot cells when being punished.

holding cell for child slaves

Gelina views the holding cell for “enfants.”

I treated the excursion as a historical exercise until we entered this dusky, elongated room where 30 or more children at a time were crunched together. In that instant, I had a flash vision of those children huddled in fear and cold, innocent and traumatized, trying their best not to cry aloud and barely able to breathe, with only two or three open slits in the wall facing the ocean for ventilation.

That was when my defenses went down, and I turned to the slit in the wall and remained silent and choked, hiding the tears from my colleagues. Every cowering, every tear, every thought of hopelessness I envisioned as experienced by these 30 children at a time had the face of my 6-year-old son stamped on their bodies. And I thought, no children of any ethnicity – be they Native American, African, Asian; the former slaves of Egypt to the the Oliver Twists of industrialized Europe; or those children today ensnared in the modern, underground slavery network of child abuse and trafficking should ever again die or have to live through that kind of inhumane experience.

Later that week as our ChildFund “Shine a Light” project team gathered to discuss gender-based violence and how to better integrate gender-based elements in our programming for children, I began musing that the “child” could be considered a third gender, like a third universal ethnic group.

When there is a rising situation of violence or a culture of violation and death, sadly, children are never exempt. Their misfortune and, often, their fatalities are unacceptable. The young child, still vulnerable and unable to take care of his or her basic needs or protect the self, the child still too innocent to distinguish cultural gender norms, the child who simply and for certain knows that she or he just wants to be safe and loved is the “third gender,” highly vulnerable to exploitation and requiring particular support and attention.

Children are gifts. They are assets, and that’s the cornerstone of ChildFund’s work. Their positive foundation as future ancestors of other generations is our daily fight.

Let’s Keep Women and Girls at Forefront of Global Development Agenda

By Danielle Roth, ChildFund Program Officer

What is it like to be a woman or a girl in today’s world? You might be surprised to know that in in Rwanda, women hold more than 50 percent of the seats in parliament (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2013). Women live and work on agricultural land across the globe, yet in developing countries women possess less than one quarter of agricultural land holdings (FAO, 2013). In Africa, enrollment in lower secondary school (equivalent to our middle school) has increased from 28 to 43 percent, yet the enrollment of girls is only 39 percent compared to 48 percent for boys (UNESCO, 2011).

Globally, the statistics on women’s health, access to secondary education and realization of justice (among other subjects) are alarming. However, they also hold promise for what the world could be when girls and women are empowered to realize their rights and make the best decisions for themselves, their children, their partners and the community.

There is no shortage of data on the well-being of women and girls globally. The Women’s Stats Project is a comprehensive database on the status of the world’s women. The project’s maps provide a visual depiction of topics as diverse as women’s physical security and discrepancy in secondary education.

map showing countries where education access is difficult for girls

Credit: Women’s Stats Project

Additionally, the United Nations publishes a report every five years on the status of the world’s women and girls, along with biennial publication on the progress of women and girls on a particular theme. The most recent edition of the Progress of the World’s Women looks at access to justice.

Information about the obstacles facing adolescent girls, and their potential, can be found on Girl Effect. Ultimately, the information available about the state of the world’s women and girls is vast and deep, thanks to the efforts of researchers and non-governmental organizations like ChildFund who recognize the value of this investment.

The 50 Days Campaign for Women and Girls reminds us that the time is now to encourage the U.S. government to continue to direct financial and human resources to women and girls issues globally. Former Secretary of State Clinton made huge investments to these ends, creating national actions plans around women, peace and security, mobilizing to prevent and respond to violence against women, and developing a Vision for Action to end child marriage.

Now we want to assure that Secretary of State Kerry continues down this same path. Please continue to follow us on our blog, Facebook and Twitter to learn how ChildFund is supporting this global campaign and more about our work with women and girls.

50 Days for Girls and Women

By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Content Manager

Across the United States, organizations and citizens are coming together over the next 50 days to ask foreign policy leaders in Washington, D.C., to take concrete actions that will improve the lives of girls and women worldwide.

ChildFund is joining with a coalition, which includes the International Women’s Health Coalition, Half the Sky, Girls Not Brides and many others, to champion the rights of women and girls – a key focus area of former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton during the past four years.

The 50 days coalition is voicing its support for continued leadership by newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. agencies to advance progress in U.S. foreign policy efforts on the following issues:

  • Ending Early and Forced Marriage
  • Ensuring Quality Education for Women and Girls
  • Preventing Violence against Women and Girls
  • Improving the Health of Women and Girls
  • Promoting Economic Empowerment of Women and Girls
  • Achieving Peace and Security for Women and Girls
  • Protecting Human Rights and Promoting Leadership and Participation of Women and Girls
  • Putting Women and Girls at the Center of the Post-2015 Global Development Agenda
girl sitting on ground

Afinencia, age 12, of Mozambique.

In ChildFund’s program areas across Africa, Asia and the Americas, we are making progress on many of these issues and improving the lives of women and children. In Kenya and Guinea, for example, we are working to make parents aware of the importance of education for girls, and we are succeeding in placing more young women in the classroom. In Mozambique, we are helping mothers obtain birth certificates for children who lack them – a key document for attending school, gaining employment and participating in elections. We are also launching efforts in Senegal, Dominica, Liberia and Indonesia to combat gender violence by assessing its prevalence and trends, researching root causes and supporting community mechanisms to both prevent violence and protect victims from further harm.

During the next 10 weeks, ChildFund will be participating in social media campaigns around each of the eight focal areas. During this time, Twitter and Facebook users are encouraged to post and share messages to help raise awareness (official hashtags are #usa4women and #usa4girls) and advocate for specific policy actions by the U.S. government that will help women and girls to be healthy, empowered, educated, and safe—no matter where they live.

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