By Funmi Adebayo
It is no longer news that adolescent girls have become very vulnerable in the face of social instability and insecurity in our world today. Girls have a lot potential which are often threatened by discriminatory practices perpetuated against them. When a girl is given the opportunity, her contribution to the society can be immense. However, this is not so in many situations. The girl is often denied her rights. She often suffers a lot of exploitation from people who should protect her and give her the opportunity to unleash her potentials.
As the world observes another day of the girl-child with the theme, Girls Progress = Goals Progress: A global Girl Data movement. There is a need to raise again the issues on what counts for the girls. What are the things that promote the progress of the girl-child? Why are girls so vulnerable? Why the discriminatory practices against girls? What are the issues that stand in the way of girls’ progress?
While a lot of effort is being made to get girls into schools, there is also the need for girls to be sensitised and educated about their vulnerability status. A lot of girls do not understand many things about themselves. Their level of awareness about the gender and sexual vulnerability is low which also affects their understanding of their status in the society. The lack of this knowledge has resulted in the exploitation of many girls. Many adolescent girls even do not know how to manage their sexuality. They grow into womanhood without sufficient enlightenment. Many just find themselves attaining menarche without prior education about it. Those who are in school may be lucky to have heard their teacher mention it at a point in time. Most girls learn about this important issues from peers who themselves are ignorant, from neighbours, family members or acquaintances at places of skill acquisition, learning trades or crafts. Not many parents have the time to teach their girls nowadays. No thanks to the economic situation which chases a lot of parents out of their houses in search of means of survival. A lot of girls are not given enough physiological and mental protection. They are left vulnerable and they then become victims of a lot of discriminatory practices such as sexual violence.
Educating the adolescent girl should not just be in academics, good as it is. It should not only be in skill acquisition. They need a broader level of education which includes their social life. Education is a form of protection. To be educated is to become aware; it is to knock down ignorance. Girls need to be sensitised to their vulnerability status and the dangers they are prone to. They need to be taught the way of escape. Girls should be taught to recognise dangers signs of violence and sexual exploitation. They should have these teachings at home and in schools. There should be social awareness and orientation. The electronic media should enlighten the society more on these things.
Broad education may not necessarily put an end to sexual and gender-based violence but as other social actors are involved, it however will prevent a lot of such exploitation of girls and young women. It will help bring it to the barest minimum.
Child marriage, sexual violence and exploitation are some of the practices that stand in the way of girls’ progress. A girl that gets married as a child faces a lot of consequences including sexual violence. While sexual violence is not only limited to child brides, it has far reaching consequences.
Violence has become part of everyday reality for many girls. Girls face violence and discrimination due to their gender and age, in many contexts, including homes, neighbourhoods and communities, on the way to school, in the school compound, and in the classroom.
Sexual violence against girls is a global phenomenon and a great human rights injustice. It is a serious problem that can have lasting, harmful effects on victims and their family, friends, and communities. Sexual violence has overreaching consequences both over the short and long term. This comes with severe health and social consequences. Girls who are victims of sexual violence are more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy and the younger they are, the more they are likely to die in childbirth than older pregnant women. Teenage pregnancy as a result of sexual violence is double tragedy for the victim. It is capable of affecting not only the present but the future of the victim. Girls could be forced into marriage when they get pregnant either due to violent or coerced sex especially from a perpetrator who has an interest in such girl. Early girl marriage or forced marriage is another cause of sexual violence against girls. These are form of discriminatory practices against girls. Girl-child marriage should be greatly discouraged. It has far-reaching consequences on the health and social status of the victim. Early marriage is demeaning for the girl because her dreams and potential become thwarted.
Sexual violence is connected to issues of social and economic injustice. The threat of sexual violence can affect a survivor’s receiving an education which hinders a girl’s prospects of earning a sustainable income later in life, perpetuating and deepening the cycle of vulnerability. Sexual violence can also increase the risk of infectious diseases and chronic disease later in life. Girls who are victims of sexual violence are at increased biological risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Sexual violence alters the life path of many girls, leading them down a road of depression, substance abuse, and high-risk behaviors.
Often times, sexual violence is hidden and underreported, due to the panic, shame, and disbelief associated with the act. Also, this should be discouraged. Victims of sexual violence should be protected. There should be public sensitisation to the need to report such activities. There should be stiff penalties against perpetrators of such acts. Data on cases of sexual violence are incoherent. It is good that the United Nations is raising awareness about global girls’ data movement. The more cases of sexual violence are being reported, the more data is being collected, the better it is to be able to bring intervention.
Ending sexual violence will allow girls worldwide to live safer and healthier lives and fulfil their right to freedom from violence, exploitation, and abuse. It will help them have the opportunity to attain and unleash their potentials. This is why we must all rise up to speak for the girl child. We must raise a voice in the society to ensure everyone supports the girl child. Girls need to be equipped and empowered with knowledge, awareness, or self-defense skills which can reduce risks. They should be empowered to seek and demand changes.
Other prevention strategies may target social norms, policies, or laws in communities to reduce the perpetration of sexual violence across the population. Boys, men and the society at large need to be sensitised against perpetrating sexual violence against girls. There should be legislation against girl-child marriage because young girls in marriage also suffer a lot of abuse. Girls should be intentionally targeted in developmental programmes.
Girls should be empowered to lead change. An adolescent girl is a powerful force for change. Anyone and everyone can become a champion for adolescent girls’ rights. The combined force of the individual acts of students, parents, family and friends can drive change that will make the world a better place for them. Rather than capitalise on the vulnerability of adolescent girls, let us join forces to shape the lives of our girls positively so that our world may be a safer place for them. Punch
Ms Adebayo, Executive Director of Girls Alive Counselling Initiative, an NGO that works at promoting adolescent girls’ rights, can be reached via email@example.com