Recently, our organisation, Girls Empowerment Network (Genet) presented findings of a baseline study for Enabling Girls Advance Gender Equity (Engage) project.
During the dissemination workshop, questions were asked: Why are you focusing on girls only? Will you be happy when all the girls have PhDs and all boys are uneducated?”
People ask these questions in numerous conversations about girl’s empowerment, girls’ rights, gender equality and gender equity.
Some people are mostly concerned that as we are empowering girls, we are leaving boys behind. As we are advocating women rights and gender equality in all aspects of life, they say, “we will have a situation where women are more empowered than men”.
It is important to note that we focus on girls because currently the situation is that among women, nearly 47 percent marry before their 18th birthday while only eight percent of men marry at this age.
The National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage (2018-2023) highlights that the rate of child marriage is seven times higher among girls than boys, with 12 percent of women being married before they are 15 compared to only 1.2 percent for men.
The situation is even pathetic in the Education Strategic Plan for HIV and Aids. It indicates that more females are infected by HIV between 15 and 29, whereas more males are infected in the 30 and above age groups”.
Such statistics in health, education, economic and social outcomes prove that women and girls are less privileged than men and boys in all aspects of life. Interventions targeting women and girls are, therefore, aimed at addressing this gap.
This is like a tug of war where we have 10 team members on one side and two team members on the other side. In trying to balance up the teams, do you add eight members on each team?
Most of our cultural beliefs and traditions still prepare girls for marriage and less for economic independence and participation in public life and development.
Some religious beliefs are still misinterpreted to mean women and girls are not meant to take up leadership positions in any aspect of life.
Our education system still shows a higher dropout of girls than boys, with less girls completing tertiary education compared to boys.
Women are still experiencing sexual and gender-based violence in the workplace and compared to their male counterparts on average women earn less despite having the same qualifications and experience.
We are living in a world where women and men are not equally treated just because of their gender. Girls and boys are not given equal opportunities in education, life skills and economic support just because of their gender.
In this kind of society, sustainable development cannot be achieved because half of its population is not adequately trained, prepared, empowered and supported to participate in development initiatives.
It is, therefore, beneficial to men as well that women are empowered to contribute to the development of this country.
So, do girls’ empowerment programmes aim to have more educated girls than boys?
On the contrary, they are fighting against unequal distribution of power now.
We envision a society where women and men, girls and boys have equal opportunities and access to resources that enable them to be empowered and attain a self-reliant livelihood.
Therefore girls and women empowerment initiatives are facilitated to bridge this existing gap between men and women in education, politics and economics.
Are we leaving men and boys behind?
No. They are far ahead—and women and girls are trying to catch up. n