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I have a daughter. She was born at home with a traditional midwife in a poor barrio in San Salvador. Her father had a 9th grade education when we got married. She had severe diarrhea at least 3 times as a baby and we worried that she might not make it. My mother-in-law took her to a traditional healer because the doctors didn’t seem to be getting it right. She had pneumonia twice as a baby, probably due to allergies, air pollution and the chickens my mother-in-law kept in the small house. She had dengue once. The water didn’t always run and people stored water in open barrels, so there were a lot of mosquitoes.

Luckily her father returned to school to finish his education. Luckily her mother and her mother’s mother were well educated. Luckily both of her parents worked, so there was enough money to feed and clothe her. Luckily we had a bit of savings that we invested in a small cement block house. Luckily we lived in a city, near a primary school. Luckily we were able to get a telephone installed around the time she was born. Luckily our barrio had electricity and we could afford to pay for it. Luckily we believed that she was just as worthy as her brother. Luckily today she is alive and thriving and in school, with a myriad of possibilities ahead of her.

Girls all over the world should be so lucky.

I’m reading the ‘Real Choices, Real Lives‘ cohort study that Plan just put out as part of the annual Because I am a Girl report (which launches Sept 22). It tells the stories of 142 girls in 9 countries (Brazil, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Benin, Togo, Uganda, Cambodia, Philippines and Vietnam) that researchers have been following since they were born. The girls will all turn 5 this year, except for the 5  girls whose lives have already been claimed by preventable diseases. 7 of the girls have dropped out of the study due to family migration or other reasons.

As powerful world leaders gather in New York this week to discuss accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, this report is a sobering and intimate reminder of the real inequalities girls, especially the poorest girls, face, and the struggles their family go through to keep them alive and help them to thrive.  The cohort study tells us that primary school enrollment rates in Sub Saharan Africa are up from 58% in 1990 to 76% in 2008, but in the poorest 20% of households, 39% of girls don’t attend school. The cohort study shows us, through the stories of the 130 girls who are still part of the cohort group, the very real impact on very real lives that failure to reach the MDGs has. The reality is that the poorest girls do not have what they need to survive, develop and participate fully.

What will happen this week in New York to change that?

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