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Zimbabwe, October 2015: Empowering the girl: Lets act today, for a better tomorrow

© UNICEF 2015/Kresiah Mukwazhi
There are nearly 600 million girls aged 10 to 19 in the world today, each with limitless individual potential.

By Elizabeth B. Mupfumira

In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, my maternal grandmother gave birth to seven daughters and one son. Back then, my grandfather made a decision to send all seven of his daughters to school – a decision which was met with scorn and ridicule in his community. What sane man would waste money educating a girl? Fortunately, this did not deter my grandfather.

Sixty years later, the effects of that decision by my grandfather have reverberated through generations, and has impacted the lives of all his children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren and hopefully generations to come.

As Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of the Girl Child, under the theme “The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030”, I stop and ponder – if the education of my mother has had, and continues to have, such a tremendous impact on my life, imagine how our collective national effort in educating all girls today will help shape Zimbabwe in 15 years and beyond?

There are nearly 600 million girls aged 10 to 19 in the world today, each with limitless individual potential. However, currently 70 per cent of the 130 million out school youths are girls, and 82 million girls in developing countries who are between the ages of 10 and 17 will be married before their 18th birthday. Here in Zimbabwe, according to the 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey conducted by ZIMSTATS and UNICEF, 24.5 per cent of Zimbabwean girls under 18 are married.

Girls, especially those in developing countries are a particularly vulnerable group. Adolescent girls face social, economic and political barriers. While they hold the potential to become leaders and effect change, their empowerment can be hindered by factors such as unwanted pregnancy, forced early marriage, gender-based violence and limited access to higher education and reproductive health services.

Unfortunately, in the past, girls have tended to disappear from the international development agenda and thus public awareness. But this year, the world has started to pay attention.

On September 27th, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, 80 world leaders convened to commit to end discrimination against women and girls by 2015. Among these commitments include supporting girls in attaining education and vocational training. Meanwhile, the empowerment of the girls child has been adopted as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals through the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, with specific commitments to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.

It seems that the message is becoming clear, investing in girls can have a formidable ripple effect to create a better world by 2030 and beyond. Educating and empowering the girl child can be the most powerful investment for development a country can make. Secondary education in particular, can be a powerful transformative force for the girl child, which can positively influence all desired national and global development outcomes. It makes economic and social sense!

In his statement to mark the International Day of the Girl Child, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said “Our task now is to get to work on meeting the SDG targets and making good on our promises to give girls all the opportunities they deserve as they mature to adulthood by 2030. That means enabling them to avoid child marriage and unwanted pregnancy, protect against HIV transmission, stay safe from female genital mutilation, and acquire the education and skills they need to realize their potential. It also requires ensuring their sexual health and reproductive rights. Girls everywhere should be able to lead lives free from fear and violence. If we achieve this progress for girls, we will see advances across society.”

I know for sure that my life would not be what is today if my grandfather had not made the decision to educate his girl child, my mother. That decision has shaped the woman I am today because she was able to make empowered decision to provide for my future. It is therefore my responsibility, as much as it is all Zimbabweans to treat the issue of educating, empowering and protecting the girl child with the urgency and seriousness it deserves. 2030 is only 15 years away. The time to act is now.



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