As a young woman working with girls in rural areas daily, this year’s International Day of the Girl Child, which is being marked today, is very significant to me.
For the past two years, I have interacted with girls who missed school due to lack of sanitary towels; had to walk tens of kilometres in search of water, or as young as 12 who have been married off or extensively subjected to female genital mutilation, denying them the beauty of teenage glow and freedom to be just girls with dreams of the future.
Life in the rural areas is tough for girls. While I appreciate the work by grassroots organisations to improve their lives, a lot more needs to be done.
The difference between a girl down the hill and the one in the middle of the city is the opportunity for support and mentorship.
Daniel Lapin, in his book Business Secrets from the Bible, observes that only humans have unlimited potential and possess the ability to develop and change themselves. A dog will still be a dog after five years, he writes.
When it comes to humans, the need for support and nurture becomes basic. Simple acts such as words or affirmation to a girl can be the ladder she needs to climb to her destiny.
News of the girl who recently killed herself after a teacher mocked her during her monthly period was heartbreaking. It was insensitive of the teacher, considering that many girls stay out of school during their menses due to lack of sanitary pads.
Statistics show 39 per cent of girls from rural areas attend secondary school — 20 per cent less than their urban counterparts. This is, perhaps, because there is more attention and focus on urban settlements than rural areas.
On the other hand, the secondary school attendance of boys from rural areas stands at 45 per cent.
A fact sheet by UN Women reveals that women and girls account for 66-90 per cent of Aids caregivers. Bearing in mind that conditions are most difficult for women and girls in rural areas, this increases their vulnerability to HIV infection.
There is a need to rethink, plan and invest more in the future of the girl child. When this day was launched in 2012 by the United Nations, the goal was to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face — including child marriage, education inequality, gender-based violence, access to sexual reproductive health and stigma.
This year’s theme is “GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable”. By interacting with the girls, I have seen what change looks like and what it means to give them a chance.
I call upon the government and interested and prospective donors to shift the paradigm of fundraising to the most vulnerable population — the girls from the rural set-ups.
It is imperative to spur sincere conversations around investing in opportunities surrounding the susceptible settlements, so that we can report holistic triumphs.
Ms Nderitu is the monitoring and evaluation officer at Dandelion Africa. www.dandelionafrica.org