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Archive for the ‘girls’ Category

This post is copied from an email that my colleague Kelly Hawrylyshyn sent to me. Kelly works on disaster risk reduction (DRR) with Plan UK. If you work on DRR and gender, go on, get yourself on the map!

Women and girls make a major contribution to disaster risk reduction and yet their role and involvement often go unacknowledged. In recognition of this gap, the Gender & Disaster Network, the Huairou Commission, Oxfam International and Plan International are facilitating the greater visibility of women and girls as part of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), October 13th, 2012.

Gender inequalities around the world mean that women and girls are most severely affected by disaster. However, they also have significant experience and knowledge to contribute to disaster prevention and to the resilience of communities.

With this in mind, our efforts aim to move beyond portraying women and girls as mere victims of disasters and to provide spaces and opportunities for women and girls to connect and partner freely with local governments and organizations. We aim to showcase how women and girls around the world are carrying out disaster reduction and prevention actions; engaging and leading in climate change awareness activities; taking part in demonstrations and simulations; promoting resilient cities initiatives; and mapping risks.

Using crowdsourcing and crowdmapping tools, we aim to generate greater visibility and recognition of local initiatives by women and girls worldwide for disaster risk reduction.

Visit our map and report your own examples, in advance of the International Day for Disaster Reduction, October 13th, 2012.

We need your help to “put on the map” the numerous research initiatives, media events, publications, training materials, advocacy, workshops, networks/associations, and other activities that are happening and need to be made VISIBLE!

Contributions from both individual women and girls and organizations engaged in DRR are welcomed.

And who knows, you may get to find out about some interesting work taking place in your country, or miles away from you!

Join Us to make visible Women and Girls on the Map!

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When working with women and girls in conflict or displacement situations (actually, when working with anyone, in any situation), we often make assumptions. In this case, the assumption is that “economic opportunities for women and adolescent girls have positive roll-on effects”, according to Mendy Marsh, UNICEF’s Gender Based Violence (GBV) Specialist in Emergencies.

Slide from Marsh’s presentation.

We assume that when women and older adolescent girls have income, they are safer. We assume that when households have income, children are more likely to be in school, that they are accessing healthcare, and that they are better fed, says Marsh.

But do we know whether that is true or not? What does the evidence say?

I took an hour today to listen to Marsh along with Dale Buscher, Senior Director for Programs at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), talk about WRC’s “Peril or Protection: Making Work Safe” Campaign (watch the recording here).

GBV happens in all communities, including stable ones. But when situations become unstable, Marsh noted, a number of additional factors combine to make women and adolescent girls in conflict or displacement settings vulnerable to violence.

Slide from Marsh’s presentation.

These factors include:

  • Inadequate legal frameworks –eg., impunity for those committing GBV and a lack of awareness of rights
  • Lack of basic survival needs  — eg., food, non-food items, fuel, water, safe shelter
  • Lack of opportunities – eg., women’s and girls’ financial dependence, potential for exploitative work
  • Sociocultural aspects – eg., harmful practices, domestic violence, early and forced marriage
  • Insecurity – eg., flight and displacement, no lighting, no safe shelter, non-separate latrines or hygiene facilities for men, women, boys and girls, or facilities that don’t lock or are insecure; dependency on males for information

Emphasis during conflict situations tends to focus on response not prevention, said Marsh. Different agencies and sectors often work in isolation, but no single agency or sector can address GBV. It needs to be addressed across all sectors with strong community participation, including that of men and boys.

Often, she noted, livelihoods programs are brought in as a response to women’s needs and based on the assumptions above. There can be unintended negative effects from these programs and we need to be aware of them so that they can be mitigated.

Following Marsh’s introduction, Busher explained that because WRC wanted to better understand any potential unintended consequences from livelihoods programs aimed at women in conflict or displacement situations, in 2009 they conducted research and produced “Peril or Protection: The Link between Livelihoods and Gender-Baed Violence in Displacement Settings.

There is a very weak evidence base in terms of the links between gender based violence and livelihoods programming, he said.

WRC found that in some cases livelihood programs implemented by NGOs actually increased women’s and adolescent girls’ risks of GBV because of factors such as their entering the public sphere, going to market, using unsafe transportation and domestic conflict. The economic opportunities heightened the risks that women and girls faced. Providing them with income generation opportunities did not necessarily make women and girls safer or give them more control over resources.

Slide from Buscher’s presentation.

The answer is not to stop creating economic opportunities, however. Rather it is to design and implement these kinds of programs in responsible ways that do no harm and that are based on in-depth consultations with women, girls and their communities, livelihoods practitioners and GBV specialists.

Based on their research and with input from different stakeholders, WRC designed a toolkit to help those creating livelihoods programs for and with women and adolescent girls to do so in a way that lessens the risk of GBV.

The process outlined in the toolkit includes secondary research, safety mapping, a safety tool, and a decision chart.

Based on the secondary research, practitioners work with adolescent girls, women and the wider community to map the places that are important for livelihoods, explained Buscher. For example, the bus, a taxi stand, a supply shop, the fields.

Community members discuss where women and girls are safe and where they are not. They describe the kinds of violence and abuse that girls and women experience in these different places.

They identify strategies for protection based on when GBV takes place in the different locations. For example, does it happen year-round? At certain times of year? Only at night? Only on weekends?

They identify and discuss the most risky situations. Is a girl or woman most at risk when she is selling by the side of the road? Alone in a shop?

They also discuss which relationships are the most prone to GBV. Bosses? Suppliers? Buyers? Intimate Partners? Together the women and girls share and discuss the strategies that they use to protect themselves.

An additional tool identifies the social safety net that a women or adolescent girl has, considering that social networks are important both for livelihoods as well as for protection. Ways to strengthen them are discussed.

Finally, a decision chart is created with a list of livelihood activities and the information from the previous charts and discussions to determine the levels of risk in the different kinds of livelihood activities and the potential strategies for mitigating GBV.

Decisions are also made by the adolescent girls and women regarding which risks they are willing to take for which levels of livelihoods.

Marsh and Buscher concluded that safe, dignified work may be the most effective form of protection because it can help mitigate negative coping strategies such as transactional sex, child labor, pulling children out of school, and selling rations.

Livelihoods, however, should not be thought of as a little bit of money to supplement daily rations. They should be sustainable and help meet basic needs in an ongoing way; and they should lead to dignified work. The amount earned and the risks involved for women and girls need to be worth it for them, considering all the other domestic chores that they are required to do. NGOs need to consult with and listen to girls and women to better understand their needs, coping strategies.

If you’d like to learn more about the research, and the toolkit, WRC offers a free e-learning tool on how to make work safe.

You can also follow the #safelivelihoods conversation on twitter.

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‘Breast flattening,’ also known as ‘breast ironing’ or ‘breast massage,’ is a practice whereby a young girl’s developing breasts are massaged, pounded, pressed, or patted with an object, usually heated in a wooden fire, to make them stop developing, grow more slowly or disappear completely.

Rebecca Tapscott* spent last August in the area of Bafut, in the Northwest, Anglophone region of Cameroon, where a 2006 study by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) found an 18% prevalence rate of breast flattening. The practice has been known as breast ‘ironing,’ however, Rebecca opts to use the term ‘flattening’ to decrease stigma and encourage open conversation about a practice that remains largely hidden.** Rebecca wanted to understand the role of breast flattening in the broader context of adolescence in Cameroon, including past and present motivations for breast flattening; cultural foundations; relation to other forms of gender-based violence such as female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C); how and where it is practiced; the psychological and the physical implications of the practice on individual girls.

Rebecca published her findings via the Feinstein International Center in May 2012, in a paper titled: Understanding Breast “Ironing”: A Study of the Methods, Motivations, and Outcomes of Breast Flattening Practices in Cameroon.

She visited our office late last year to share the results of her work with staff at the Plan USA office, explaining that there is currently very little research or documentation of breast flattening. The GIZ study is the only quantitative study on the practice, and there do not seem to be any medical studies on breast flattening. It’s a practice that is believed to affect 1 out of 4 girls in Cameroon, more commonly in some regions than in others. Of note is that research on breast flattening has thus far only been conducted in Cameroon, thus creating the impression that the practice is uniquely Cameroonian, when in reality, it may be a regional phenomenon.

Organizations working to end breast flattening do so with the aim of protecting girls. However, the question of protection is an interesting one depending on who you talk with. Rebecca found that those who practice breast flattening also believe they are protecting girls. “Many mothers believe that unattended, a girl’s breasts will attract advances of men who believe physically developed girls are ‘ripe’ for sex. Breast flattening is seen as a way to keep girls safe from men so that they are able to stay in school and avoid pregnancy.”

According to Rebecca, breast flattening is practiced out of a desire to delay a girl’s physical development and reduce the risk of promiscuous behavior. Proponents of the practice consider that “men will pursue ‘developed’ girls and that girl children are not able to cope with or deter men’s attention. They see that promiscuity can result in early pregnancy, which limits educational, career, and marriage opportunities, shames the family, increases costs to family (newborn, loss of bride price, health complications from early childbirth or unsafe abortion).” In addition, there is the belief that girls are not sufficiently intellectually developed to learn about puberty, and therefore should not yet develop breasts. Another reason given for the practice is the belief that girls who develop before their classmates will be the target of teasing and become social outcasts. There is also, for some, the belief that large breasts are unattractive or not fashionable.

Rebecca cites a poor understanding of human biology as one reason that the practice persists. Some of the beliefs around it include: “Belief that sensitivity and pain during breast development indicates that the growth is too early and must be artificially delayed until the girl is older. Belief that when a girl develops breasts she will stop growing taller. Belief that puberty can be delayed by delaying breast development. Belief that for breasts to grow properly, the first growth should always be repressed (like baby teeth). Belief that if breasts begin growing at a young age, they will grow too large or be misshapen, resulting in a displeasing or disproportionate female form. Belief that breasts and other outward signs of sexuality develop in accordance with a girl’s interest in sex, and therefore a developed girl is soliciting sexual advances or is a ‘bad’ girl. Belief that when a girl develops breasts, she believes she has matured and subsequently, she becomes less obedient. Belief that it will improve breast feeding at a later age.”

“…For mothers there is the perception that we should delay the development of girls as much as possible, believing that physical development shows maturity. Men look at girls and talk amongst themselves and say, “she’s ripe for sex.” They are not looking for marriage prospects…Men are aggressive. In pidgin, they say “she got get done big,” meaning, she’s matured and ready for sex. I can go after her now. Women, on the other hand, know that their daughters are just kids.” ~ journalist that Rebecca interviewed.

Rebecca also heard explanations such as “A girl will stop growing taller because the weight of her breasts will hold her down. One can delay puberty by delaying breast growth. If the breasts hurt during puberty, they are developing too early.” There are also many beliefs related to a girl’s development and her sexual reputation. Some of these beliefs include that a girl with large breasts is a ‘bad girl’. This stems from the belief that breasts start to develop when a man touches them or if a girl is thinking about sex, going to night clubs or watching pornography. Rebecca found that many of these beliefs were held across all segments of society, from the very well educated to those with no formal education.

“The body responds to psychological ideas. If a girl looks for a “friend,” her breasts will grow faster. If she is interested in boys or watches pornography, her body will develop faster.” ~ Interviewee at the Ministry of Social Affairs

“If a girl is interested in sex and thinks about it a lot, she will develop faster. I saw two girls of 12 years, one of whom was very developed physically and the other was not. The one who was developed could speak very frankly about sex, showing that she was knowledgeable from some experience, while the other girl was very naive and shy.” ~ Teacher

Because of potential stigma or harm to girls who talked about undergoing breast flattening, Rebecca only interviewed a few teenaged girls directly during this phase of her research. Instead, she mainly interviewed older women, as well as a few boys and men. She found that most women who had experienced breast flattening didn’t seem to remember the experience as extremely traumatic; however, she commented, “most are remembering from back in the day. Most at first said didn’t really hurt but then after a while into the interview, they’d remember, well, yes it hurt.” Rebecca was surprised at the number of people who said that heated leaves were used, because the media normally reports that a grinding stone or pestle is used for breast flattening.

“When I was 11 years old, my grandmother did a form of breast flattening to me. This was in 1984. I was walking around with her shoulders hunched forward to hide my developing chest, so my grandmother called me to the kitchen. She warmed some fresh leaves on the fire and said something in the dialect, like a pleading to the ancestors or spirits. Then she applied the leaves to my chest, and used them to rub and pat my breasts flat. She would also rub and pat my back, so as to make the chest flat and even on the front and the back. It hurts because the chest is so sensitive then—but they are not pressing too hard.” ~ 38 year old woman from the community

“To do the practice, I warmed the pestle in the fire, and used it in a circular motion to press the breasts flat. I did it once per day for over a week—maybe 8 or 9 days. I massaged them well, and they went back for seven years.” ~ 53-year-old woman attending a maternal health clinic in Bafut, attending with a different daughter whose breasts she did not flatten

“Until about a year ago, I believed that when a girl is interested in sex, watches porn, or lets boys touch their breasts, her breasts will grow larger. I think my mother must believe this. My ideas changed when I saw my own friends—I knew they were virgins, but they had large breasts. Also when my own breasts got bigger, and it was not because a man was touching them.” ~ Journalist in Bamenda

There is currently no consensus on whether the practice is effective at reducing the size of a girl’s breasts or if it has long-term effects on breast size. “People told me completely different things gave the same result, or people cited the very same practices as yielding different results,” said Rebecca.

Rebecca’s findings indicate that the practice of breast flattening is not a longstanding ‘traditional’ practice. Many people reported that it became more popular with urbanization. “People [who immigrated to cities] didn’t know their neighbors and they were worried about the safety of their daughters. It seems that an old practice that was used for ‘shaping’ was repurposed and adapted. Breast flattening is a very intimate and personal thing between mother and daughter. It doesn’t happen to all daughters. It’s very difficult to track, and there is no association with ethnic groups, education, socioeconomic levels, religion, etc.,” she explained.

“Most men don’t know about it. One boy said he thought it was good to protect girls.” When she talked holistically with men about what they look for in a woman, Rebecca said, “an interest in chastity and virginity came out very clearly. In Cameroon the average age for girls to lose virginity is 13-17, and it’s the same for boys. According to studies, for most, the first sexual experience is unwilling.”

Most doctors that Rebecca talked to had never heard of the practice. One doctor in Yaoundé said he had seen first and second degree burns as a result. Some cite that edemia may be a result. Development organizations like GIZ say it can cause cysts, cancer, and other difficulties but also cited that only 8% of women report suffering negative side effects, while 18% report that their breasts “fell” or sagged at an early age.

Many women who Rebecca interviewed considered the practice a very low concern compared to other problems that impact on their development, such as illiteracy, sexual exploitation, poverty and unemployment. “The women that I talked to,” said Rebecca, “often asked me, ‘Why are you asking me about this? It’s such a small thing compared to other things we have to face.’”

Given that there is not much research or consensus around breast flattening in Cameroon and the broader region, Rebecca’s work may be of use to local and international organizations that are working to promote women’s and children’s rights. Rebecca emphasizes that most people who engage in what are commonly referred to as ‘harmful traditional practices’ including female genital cutting (FGC) and breast flattening, actually do so with their child’s best interest in mind, as a means of protecting and promoting the child within the community and following social norms. Therefore, frightening or berating people may not be the best approach to discourage the practice of breast flattening. Community input will be needed to identify the root causes of the practice for it to become obsolete. Better sex education and a reduction in stigma around talking about sexual reproductive health may also help. Men will need to be part of the solution, and so will mothers who currently feel the need to take protection of their daughters into their own hands. Like many similar practices, it’s not likely that breast flattening will end until other systems and environments that set the stage for it also change.

*Rebecca worked with Plan Cameroon for several weeks on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) Project last June and July. She traveled to Bafut following her internship to conduct independent research.

**This distinction is similar to the difference between the terms female genital ‘mutilation’ and female genital ‘cutting.’

Read the full report.

Contact Rebecca for more information: rebecca.tapscott [at] gmail.com

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The field of Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) tends to be dominated by men. Is this because men are more suited to working in technology? Because women don’t want to? Because boys are more interested from an early age?

Probably not. What is more likely is that there are factors throughout girls’ lives that discourage them from going into this field.

At a personal level, I’ve been lucky enough to work in settings and environments that are largely positive towards women in this field. I’ve met and collaborated with numerous wonderful men who treat me with respect and who have been more than willing to work side-by-side, to help me out, to ask for advice, to share their own experience and information, and to support and promote the work I’m involved in. The fact that I work more on the social side of ICTs rather than the super technical, engineering or ‘coding’ side, however, may have something to do with my positive experiences.

Many women who work on the more ‘techie’ side report feeling discriminated against, and the numbers tell a story that’s worth looking into.

In the US, for example…

When women are shown in the media working in technology, they are often seen as rare, they are patronized or sexualized, and their appearance is noted and commented on. (And don’t even get me started on ‘booth babes’ at for-profit technology conferences.)

As Miriam writes in ‘First Female Engineer Graces the Cover of Wired Magazine‘, ‘I’m glad they’ve featured her here, and I’m glad that she’s not scantily clad like most of the women who grace the covers of national magazines. But when will we get beyond the idea of Rosie the Riveter? When can women across fields just be acknowledged the way their male counterparts are–for their accomplishments? …Posing her like Rosie feels antiquated, and also draws attention only to the fact that she’s a woman in a man’s world–not that she’s an incredible engineer in her own rite [sic].’

It’s the same, or perhaps more pronounced, the world over.

At last year’s Commission on the Status of Women, Fabiola, a 17 year old from Cameroon commented: “when a girl succeeds to sit on a computer lab, a boy will raise his voice on her, saying: ‘Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you will be holding a baby’s napkin?’

In other parts of her talk, Fabiola recognized the important role that her parents played in keeping her in school and encouraging her to study for a career related to the sciences.

This highlights the importance of not only education, but of positive parental and community support and a broader set of changes that allow girls to have more freedom and more opportunities. Girls need to know that they have options open to them. And boys need to know too that girls can ‘do stuff’. Women role models are important, and where there are not yet women in certain careers to serve as role models, positive support from men to encourage girls to explore their options is key.

More girls and women in ICTs is not only an individual opportunity for women to earn an income. It can also mean that ICTs products and tools will be designed with women in mind. And I’m not talking about making things pink and purple to appeal to women, I’m talking about the design that responds to real needs in the real lives of women and girls around the world.

As part of a broader effort to encourage more girls to consider wider options, ‘Girls in ICTs Day‘, was established last year and will now be an annual event on the UN Calendar, to be celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday in April.

Many initiatives are underway already to support girls and women in the ICT sector. More governments recognize the importance and necessity of taking deliberate steps. The ITU’s latest report notes that “The choices made by policymakers, enterprises and individuals on investment in education and training must strive for gender equality—that is, to give women the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as men.”

Positive attitudes and support from families, friends, communities, the private sector and the media is also part of the solution to helping girls see their potential.

The Girls in ICT Portal offers statistics and advice on how to encourage more girls to consider ICTs as a career option. 

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If you happen to be in New York City and have a couple of hours to spare, come on by to this panel today from 12-2 at UNICEF’s Danny Kaye Center. I’ll be doing an overview of some research that Keshet Bachan and I worked on late last year for UNICEF.

There will be some fantastic examples from Tostan, Equal Access, New School and UNICEF on creative ways that new technologies can be used when working directly with marginalized adolescent girls. We’ll also discuss how ICTs and communication for development (C4D) can be used in broader outreach aimed at changing mindsets and behaviors to look more favorably on girls and their capacities and improve their access to new technologies.

Update:  Here’s an article and short video about the panel.

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As you may have read in my previous posts, I participated in Making Cents International’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference from September 7-9. Some of the most interesting points for me were the emphases on seeing youth as assets, specialized and focused efforts with girls, and the gaps and bridges that technology can create and span for girls.

A last point I want to bring up is the need for ‘soft skills’ and ‘enabling environments’ in addition to the specific ‘hard skills’ like vocational training, specific job skills, computer training, etc. The importance of ‘soft skills’ and ‘enabling environments’ was  mentioned in pretty much every session that I attended.

Soft skills. It seems obvious, but in addition to knowing how to cut hair, fix a car, run a small business, develop computer software, repair mobile phones, do construction, or work at a store, an office, a factory or whatever, young people need to learn ‘soft skills.’  Soft skills include good attitudes towards work and learning, good interpersonal relationships, self-esteem and confidence, decision-making and all kinds of skills that don’t only help youth succeed at generating income, but that help them negotiate a variety of situations in their lives. Sometimes these are called ‘life skills’, and they are critical elements of holistic youth focused programs.

Most youth development approach programs, whether aimed at economic empowerment or striving for other goals, are about helping youth strengthen these types of skills. At the personal level, most of the work I’ve been involved in over the past several years is along these lines, but via the use of technology, arts and media and involvement in youth-led advocacy or youth-led community development activities. The results are similar however —  youth learn to have self-confidence and they feel valued, they have a sense of group belonging and safety, they learn to speak in public, interact confidently with each other and with adults, they find a space where they can say what they think without being shy, boys and girls learn to work together and better understand each other, and youth learn to negotiate and broker with those who have power. Combined with financial literacy, specific job training and skills related to work and business, these skills are what make young people more successful when trying to earn a living, whether it’s in the formal or informal sector. They also help youth to navigate and overcome some of the challenges and barriers that they encounter. In addition, having trusted adult mentors who they can turn to for support can help ease their way.

Enabling environment. Youth can learn all the soft skills and vocations they want, but if the environment that surrounds them is not conducive to their well-being, if adults do not respect and value them, if there are no broader supportive systems and opportunities for youth to link into, they will be primed for success, but they may not reach it, and this can lead to frustration and apathy. For this reason, the ‘enabling environment’ is a critical piece of these programs.

Manjula Pradeep from Navsarjan Trust talked about the variety of skills and aspects that they focus on with adolescent girls and young women, and their communities, including:

  • Sense of self
  • Identity
  • Solidarity
  • Sense of place
  • Finding self and others who can be supportive
  • Changing and bringing women up to another level in the family and the community
  • Vocational skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Focus on rights and protection
  • Support and acknowledgment to the other elements of their lives
Youth Build and Catholic Relief Services shared their short document called Rebuilding Lives and Livelihoods, which gives a clear set of promising practices for working with gang-involved youth. Each organization present at Making Cents had its own way of looking at or describing soft skills and enabling environments, but every successful program approach seemed to emphasize the need for both.

The development of soft skills goes hand in hand with seeing youth as assets and people in their own right, and with understanding that mere vocational training, or simply owning a mobile phone will not be enough for many adolescents and young people to achieve success. The focus on enabling environments shows an awareness that the context in which young people grow up is complex and needs to be seen as such, and that all levels and sectors need to be working together to support healthy, thriving and successful young people — from the individual youth, to the family, community, district, national and global levels, and from the cultural to the educational to private enterprise and government and religious and civil society.

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One of the great panels at last week’s Making Cents International’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference was on technology and youth economic opportunities. (See my previous posts on seeing youth as assets and barriers girls face to economic opportunities, and my next post on soft skills and enabling environments).

In addition to the specific panel, I paid special attention throughout the conference for any mention of technology, and I asked some questions in panels that were not related to technology to see if people thought technology was an enabler for adolescent  girls or if my perception is biased because it’s my area of focus.

What I heard is that in regard to girls and technology, there are large gaps as well as areas where technology can serve as a bridge for girls to achieve economic opportunities. As Wayan Vota from Inveneo noted, globally, women are 20% less likely to have a mobile phone than men and in Asia, that number rises to 37%. How can we address the ‘girl gap’ especially in terms of the poor and disadvantaged 10% of adolescent girls who are the most marginalized of all? How can we help bring economic opportunities to this group?

Girl-focused programs. In terms of helping girls feel more comfortable accessing and learning about technology, Peter Broffman from Intel brought up the importance of safe spaces. Intel’s Learn program creates spaces that are ‘girls only, where they are not competing with boys,’ he said. ‘It takes a concerted effort to construct comfortable environments where girls can explore technology.’ We have special days for girls and girls only projects. Girls tend to be more comfortable creating and using technology in that kind of environment,’ he said. Vota agreed, saying that one simple way of making spaces more amenable to girls is by having all the computer screens in a computer lab or cafe facing the public, so that it’s easy to monitor what is being done on them (eg., so that accessing ‘adult’ content is impossible to hide). Katherine Lucey from Solar Sister, in a separate panel, also referred to the need for programs that are specifically designed for girls and women. She described a microfinance program operating in one of the same communities as Solar Sister where 90% of the participants are male. ‘Solar Sister is a program aimed at women because the existing programs are biased towards men.’

Girls and women in rural areas. David Mukaru from Kenya’s Equity Bank said that the bank reaches more women and girls simply because  the majority of rural population in Kenya is made up of women. Many men have migrated to urban areas. ‘Through the financial education which the bank embarked on 3 years ago, we addressed technology fears. We were able to train the women, create awareness on bank services, train them how to use technology, how to interact with bank officials. We also introduced technology to the rural agency. The agency uses a mobile. The agency in the rural area is the normal shop keeper and he has become an agent of training and penetrating in the rural areas. This guy is in the rural shop and he trains the woman how to use these technologies to do banking.’

Mobility.  Mobile tech can really be the great leveler, according to Jacob Korenblum from Souktel. It can really help to close gender gap.  ‘Many of the young women who use our services come from traditional families that would not allow them to go door to door to find employment. They are not allowed to go around town to find job opportunities. So their ability to find jobs is limited. But since many young women have mobile phones, within the household, as a young woman via Souktel you can start looking for work and even secure a job interview from home. Your family is comfortable with how you are doing this but you are still asserting yourself, you are taking that step to get a job.’

Another program that Souktel offers is support for women entrepreneurs via mobile phone groups. ‘Through a closed mobile phone peer network, women can ask questions to each other. In Iraq for example, women cannot travel, but they want to consult with other women on a business they are starting – they can send a question out to peers who can respond with advice. It’s like a list-serve via mobile phone. For female business owners, being able to consult peers via mobile is tremendous. It’s safe for them, it’s empowering. Our studies have shown this. We’ve been able to help women play catch up and access the same resources that men have, just through a different channel.’

Access is not enough. Raquel Barros from Lua Nova, a program that trains marginalized girls in Brasil to do construction work, said that in Brazil mobile phones are very expensive and they are a high status asset for the girls she works with. But ‘access is not sufficient for the phone to be used for something good or useful,’ she said. ‘It’s important to access the mobile phone but also important to do more education about how you can use the mobile phone. All our girls have Orkut but they don’t know their email. They have computers that they can use and we started to take some photos and that kind of thing, but the girls don’t always access and use mobiles and Internet in a good way. Access and education are both important.’ [Plan did some interesting research on girls use of technology in Brazil that confirms this also – see the Annex to Chapter 4.]

Technology as an economic enabler. Technology is everywhere according to Manjula Pradeep from Navsarjan, a trust that works with low-caste girls in India, “In Gujarat we have maximum mobile owners. The mobile is a status symbol, yes. In a family you can have 3-4 people owning a phone. And it does mean a lot when young women have mobiles, you can do your marketing, you have access to people, people can reach you on your mobile, you can put it on your shop board so people can reach you on mobile.’ In addition, computer training can allow girls to replicate and train others on computer skills. ‘A lot of girls have done computers; they are running classes for the children because children are not taught computers in schools. So the girls can teach this.’ However, as David Mukaru from Equity Bank in Kenya had noted earlier during the technology panel, ‘the challenge is access to a power supply.’ Not to mention other infrastructure. ‘When we work with the tribal populations, they have no access to transport, so how can you ever get a computer repaired?’ Some young people who Pradeep works with have started their own studios. ‘They start by buying a camera — it’s not cheap but they save and buy it. We have a lot of wedding ceremonies and rituals that happen that people can do a lot of video projects.’

Wearing pants. But as Pradeep said, technology can also bring about other personal changes. ‘Ultimately, your entire outlook changes with tech. Women with computers or cameras tend to wear trousers and shirts. I’ve seen women — if you get married you only have to wear saris, you can’t get out of a sari, you struggle with that identity — but these women are wearing trousers and using a camera. Sometimes they even cut their hair! Even just using a camera or cell phone,  you will see women changing. Technology really changes their role. To bring change, mobilizing the community is important but technology itself can also change the role of women.”

Interesting indeed!

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As I wrote yesterday, I attended Making Cents International’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference last week on “Breakthroughs in Youth Enterprise, Workforce Development, Financial Services and Livelihoods”

Messages I took away included:

The Adolescent Girls and Young Women track started from the reality that girls face barriers to economic empowerment, but that there are some specific things that can be done to support them and things girls themselves can do to be more successful. Some k-nowledge that got dropped:

Barriers girls face to gaining employment. Barbara Chilangwa from CAMFED (and former Secretary of Education in Zambia) commented that barriers include girls’ lack of power and male domination; the fact that money is controlled by men, meaning women don’t have an opportunity to own anything; girls not attending school, and early marriage. “Girls’ education must be at the core of any country that wants to develop,” she said.

What do girls say? The team from BRAC in Tanzania presented their holistic life skills and job training program with adolescent girls. As a key step in their program, they consulted with girls on what they consider “the good life” and what challenges they face in trying to reach it. (See “Seeing youth as assets” – it’s important to involve young people in program design and decisions).

The girls considered the good life to include (in this order): health, education, work, house, good husband, loving family, good morals, peace in the family, peace in the community, cooperation and the absence of poverty.

The challenges to the good life that the girls noted were: early pregnancy; early marriage; bride price; gender discrimination; HIV and STIs; dropping out of school; alcohol and drugs; a complex family situation; poverty; a limited voice in the family; limited participation in the community; violence, rape or prostitution; limited opportunities for income generation and lack of opportunity for receiving training and loans.

Is 15 too late for girls? Judith Bruce from the Population Council focused on the message that once a girl hits puberty, she must fight for control of her own body, her sexuality, her fertility and her labor. “Most youth policies begin at 15, and this is 5 years too late for girls,” she said. “We need to invest in late childhood [starting at age 10], which is the critical period for girls.” Girls face intensified social exclusion during adolescence as their movement and mobility is restricted by family and community, Bruce said. In addition, there is a weak link between secondary school completion and earning for girls. “It’s difficult for females to control their earnings and other assets,” she noted. “This is something boys and men don’t have to deal with.” On top of that, there is a disproportionate dependency burden on females in both time and income.

Bruce said that the girls who are participating in financial services and different programs are those who have “survived girlhood,” overcoming a number of obstacles in order to enter into these programs. But what about the girls that don’t get into the programs that agencies design and develop, she wondered. We need to build social capital early, help girls develop friendship networks, provide regular safe spaces where girls can meet, provide female mentors, ensure they have personal documentation and safety nets, and support age-graded, gender and context specific financial literacy. “All girls should have small emergency savings and be introduced to goal-oriented savings,” she said. “This work is hard and costly and it matters who we invest in and work with.” She advocated that 12-year-old girls should be the focus of economic opportunity programs.

Formal or informal? Mary Hallward-Driemeier from the World Bank gave some fascinating insight into gender inequities and where they occur. (I’m not sure which exact studies she was working from but perhaps start here or here). The Bank takes a holistic approach to economic opportunities, looking at human capital (education, training); access to assets (financial and physical); an enabling environment (cultural, social, business) and motivation (drive, connections, empowerment). In this context, gender and youth can matter, she said, both directly (girls and women face constraints because they are female and young) and indirectly (due to the nature of where young women are disproportionately active economically.

Once informal, always informal. Hallward-Driemeier brought out that the constraints that young women face are quite often based on the activities that they tend to go into. Small, informal sectors tend to be where women are working, and there is not much difference between genders within the sector, however more women end up in the informal sector, which is more challenging than the formal sector. So, it’s not about girls’ and women’s participation per se, it’s about helping girls and women move into higher value added activities. “There are not an awful lot of transitions. Once you are in a small, informal enterprise, it’s not likely that you will move out of this sector. This is why youth opportunities are critical to what girls will do with their futures.”

“Sextortion” was a new word I learned. It refers to the sexual harassment that girls and women often face when trying to get a job, eg., “I’ll give you a job but you must provide sexual favors if you want it.” Statistics seem to show that “sextortion” occurs more often in formal employment situations (in the context of HIV/AIDS work I’ve heard that this happens quite a bit in the informal sector also, though I have no studies to back this up). A woman may not be able to report this because her husband or family will no longer allow her to work, it can cause trouble for her, she can be blamed, she can be shamed or stigmatized by the community. A video shown by Youth Build/Catholic Relief Services in an unrelated session the following day included a concrete case of ‘sextortion’. The young Salvadoran woman featured in the video explained that she had studied auto mechanics and was unable to find a job. At the most recent interview she went to, she would have been required to sleep with the manager, so she declined it.

Discriminatory laws that make girls and women vulnerable. Another point that Hallward-Driemeier brought up was that in certain countries, customary and religious law is the formal constitutionally recognized law even though it is discriminatory against women. Marriage, land, property and inheritance are exempt from nondiscrimination and there is no recourse in most cases. She showed some very interesting graphics comparing head of household laws in low versus middle-income countries, and there is not much difference in terms of customary law across countries – discrimination against women is present in both.

Hallward-Driemeier shared some life decisions that can affect a woman’s ability to pursue opportunities or render her less or more vulnerable including:

  • Registering her marriage: legal rights and protections can vary based on whether a marriage is formally recognized by the state or not.
  • Her choice of marital property regime: Separate or community property have different implications for the control of property within marriage and the division of property in the case of divorce or inheritance.
  • Registering property jointly with her spouse: This can protect a woman if the marriage ends.
  • Registering her business in her own name:  So that she can have control as well as ownership of it.
  • Writing a will and having her husband write one too: So that she is legally protected in terms of land ownership, property, custody of children, etc.
It’s clear that the challenges and barriers that women girls face are in many cases much higher than those that men and boys face, but as Bruce said in her comments:  “Girls are such performers!”  In the face of great obstacles, when given an opportunity, girls and young women most certainly can overcome the barriers and shine.

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Charles Suglo, Bestway Zottor and Francis Diamenu from Radio Tongu

Sometimes among all the ICT4D hype, we forget about one of the biggest and oldest ICTs there is:  radio.

Last month while in Ghana, I visited Radio Tongu in Sogakofe. The compound where this community radio station sits also serves as a community center, with computer training, a press center and Internet access for a discounted rate.

Plan Ghana staff was meeting with the radio director, Bestway Zottor, and two of the managers, Francis Diamenu and Charles Suglo, to discuss the idea of offering internships for 6-8 youth from the nearby school-based Girls Making Media (GMM) program Plan Ghana and Plan US are supporting.

Charles explained to us that the station gets some 70% of its news from the Internet. The other 30% is sourced from local communities, and recorded on the ground wherever the news is happening. ‘The voice is reality,’ he said. ‘It’s what promises that the news is real. It’s what makes people believe.’ The station broadcasts in 3 languages: Ewe, English and French.

If the youth in the GMM program want to be radio hosts, according to Charles, they need to be well trained and professional, especially since the topics that the youth are bringing up — violence against children and bullying — are sensitive. ‘We have our credibility as a radio station,’ he said. ‘So they need to be well-trained on radio program hosting, know how to manage on air, be skilled on how to ask good questions and follow-up questions.’

There are all kinds of jobs that the youth can do at the radio station, including news, marketing, voice, or running the cafe. Having job skills such as these can begin to give the youth some experiences that will serve them later in life. The training and work they’ve done through the GMM project over the past year give them a foundation for the internship positions at Radio Tongu.

Following the visit to the radio station, we went to the school to meet with the media club. It’s called the  ‘Eye Media Network.’ The group’s slogan is ‘Our eyes are always watching.’

The GMM program began last year with a workshop for 20 of the students on media skills and gender. Following that the Club received a small media kit consisting of digital cameras, voice recorders, a radio, a notice board and Flip cameras. The girls work with 2 advisers and now several boys have also joined the Club. The club plans its own programs and actions, and does a school-wide newscast every Wednesday during the school assembly.

A student reads us the news they've posted on the Notice Board

As part of the program, the Club meets and interviews local and national figures, with a focus on women journalists, government officials and businesswomen. The group has covered school elections and put into place a ‘Walk your Talk’ Accountability initiative.

They conducted a bullying campaign with the goal of reducing the incidence of bullying by 30%. After the campaign, which included posters, educational sessions and other outreach, the Senior Housemaster claimed that bullying had been reduced by 90% compared to the year before. They will begin a campaign against sexual harassment in the coming year.

Some of the challenges that the group faces include posters being ripped down, friends trying to discourage them, boys suffering discrimination for belonging to the “Girls Making Media” club, and not having enough equipment. The club hopes to obtain their own modem, computer, printer and more cameras.

The first week of August, select students from the GMM group participated  in social media training, where they learned how to shoot video, subtitle, access different social networking sites to post their content, and stay safe while online.

The girls in the club said the project has helped them to build confidence and take up leadership positions. ‘We learn how to find information and to bring out problems and get solutions,’ said one girl.

Another said ‘We took bullying as a normal thing. Now we know that bullying is not normal. Now when we see something, we are alert.’

‘I used to walk around without seeing,’ added another ‘but now I see everything because I am looking for news. My mind has been opened.’

The Girls Making Media program covers 7 schools in Ghana. Several other groups in Togo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone also participate in the GMM program.

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This is a guest post from Lil Shira, one of the girl delegates who attended the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in February, 2011. Lil Shira was part of a Plan led Girl Delegation which took part in high level panels, side events and caucuses. This post appears complete in its original format. You can read a post by Fabiola, another of the girl delegates from Cameroon, here.

Lil Shira in the community

My name is Lil Shira, a high school student and a Cameroonian.  I am the second child out of five children in my family, three girls and two boys, and we live in a rural area. Because I am a girl I was selected by my school authority to be part of the journalism club in the school. This paved my way into YETAM (Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media) project sponsored by Plan Finland since the Journalism club was chosen for this project.

Because I am a girl I had to use the skills I have acquired in YETAM on music, media and ICTs to indentify issues like the problem of early and forced marriage, high rate of school dropout and violence against the girl child. Because I am a girl, I had to mobilize other youth (girls and boys) victims, so as to speak out as a unique voice, to raise awareness to the general public using music, drawings, drama, poems, videos, computers and overhead projector as tools. This led to many local advocacy actions spearheaded by us.

I was also very happy to celebrate the 21st anniversary, in Yaoundé in Cameroon, of the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child within the framework of YETAM project. These created a big impact in my life, the lives of my friends, youth, school, family and my country. All these activities took me to a higher level because I was again selected, this time to be one of the girl delegates to represent Cameroon in the 55th session of the UN Commission on the Status of women (CSW) in New York City.

Lil Shira presenting at the CSW.

I was very happy, excited together with my friends and family members and I was planning and preparing on the role I was going to play while in New York. My expectation was to work with other youth from different region and country but did not really expect I was going to talk to Ministers from all the members’ state of the UN. I did my first presentation with the Canadian Minister on a panel about the importance of commemoration days and the importance of setting up an International day for the girls.  Another thing which made me feel so opportune was the panel with UN women Ministers in the UN building.

I was very impressed seeing ministers from over two hundred countries and above listening to me and in effect giving a positive response to the issues I presented. In fact their reaction made me feel at home and so happy. I was equally happy to listen to other girls raise issues like gender based violence and discrimination in their various countries and what they have been doing to combat it.

Coming in contact with girls from Sierra Leone, Finland, United States, Indonesia, Canada and others, not mention to share our ideas, was so wonderful and exciting.  This was a forum for me to dialogue with them to know more about them and some of the issues affecting them in their own country which was contrasting with mine. Though I was nervous during my first presentation, meeting new faces it all passes away like a breeze and I did not have any complex because everything was cute.

Life in the US to me was very enjoyable and meaningful, but I could not stop complaining of the cold and snow. In addition, I tried eating food not familiar to that of my home country. All these contributed greatly to the wonderful experiences I had on the weather condition and the food.  I have learned to adapt to situations wherever I find myself. I hope to continue sharing this experience so that others may learn from it.

This is the time for girls to take up the challenge. I know my rights and have claim them, and no one can take them from me because I am a girl.

Thanks to Plan International, Judith Nkie our Chaperone, Kate Ezzes and Lia de Pauw.

Girls, claim your rights!

Related posts and videos about YETAM and the CSW:

Girls voices in global forums

Girls in rural Cameroon talk about ICTs

55th CSW: Women, girls, education and technology

A catalyst for positive change

On the map: Ndop, Okola and Pitoa


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