Global ac­tion needed on gen­der par­ity

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

IN WRIT­ING about the chal­lenges fac­ing the “girl child”, es­pe­cially those in de­vel­op­ing na­tions, re­searchers and schol­ars have noted that prej­u­dice against the girl child in these so­ci­eties is not nec­es­sar­ily about race or eth­nic­ity, but rather poverty, gen­der and sex­u­al­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Mil­len­nium Re­port, “of the more than 110 mil­lion chil­dren not in school, ap­prox­i­mately 60% are girls. By age 18, girls have re­ceived an av­er­age of 4.4 years less ed­u­ca­tion than boys. World­wide, of the more than 130 mil­lion pri­mary school age chil­dren not en­rolled in school, nearly 60% are girls. In some coun­tries in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, ado­les­cent girls have HIV rates up to five times higher than ado­les­cent boys. Preg­nan­cies and child­birth-re­lated health prob­lems take the lives of nearly 146 000 teenage girls each year.”

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Pop­u­la­tion Fund (UNFPA), in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, one in ev­ery three girls is mar­ried be­fore reach­ing age 18 and one in nine is mar­ried un­der the age of 15. These girls, pres­sured into early mar­riage, of­ten be­come preg­nant as ado­les­cents and face the risks of com­pli­ca­tions dur­ing child­birth and the risk of ma­ter­nal death.

As Nige­rian Toni Ade­lanwa points out in a piece for the Urunji Child-Care Trust: “If all women had a sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, 12 mil­lion chil­dren would be saved from stunt­ing from mal­nu­tri­tion. An ed­u­cated mother can save the lives of her chil­dren and help re­duce the num­ber of mal­nu­tri­tion-re­lated deaths which make up more than a third of global deaths yearly. Ed­u­cated moth­ers are more likely to en­sure their chil­dren re­ceive the best nu­tri­ents, know more about ap­pro­pri­ate health prac­tices and make sure their child’s nu­tri­tion needs are met.”

Re­search has shown that, when you ed­u­cate a girl in Africa, she’ll be three times less likely to get HIV/Aids, earn 25% more in­come and have a smaller, health­ier fam­ily.

If we, in South Africa, be­lieve that we are the bench­mark eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially on the African con­ti­nent, then we have a duty to all our girl chil­dren to en­sure they are ed­u­cated and get ev­ery op­por­tu­nity pos­si­ble to pros­per.

Women have played a ma­jor role in the lib­er­a­tion of South Africa. Yet we con­tinue to fail the prog­eny of those who laid down their lives for our greater free­doms while their chil­dren con­tinue to lan­guish on the pe­riph­eries of so­ci­ety, their poverty mak­ing them out­casts.

The South African gov­ern­ment has pro­duced a num­ber of poli­cies and leg­is­la­tion in pur­suit of women’s em­pow­er­ment – the con­sti­tu­tion in­cludes Sec­tion 9 which pro­motes equal­ity for all per­sons and free­dom from dis­crim­i­na­tion and the Em­ploy­ment Eq­uity Act, No 55 (1998) which strives to achieve eq­uity in the work­place by pro­mot­ing fair treat­ment in em­ploy­ment.

The re­al­ity, how­ever, is far re­moved from this ideal, as prej­u­dice and sex­ism con­tinue largely unchecked. For ex­am­ple, women have lim­ited ac­cess to land – they own only 1% of the land in South Africa.

Women also tend to face greater chal­lenges when it comes to se­cur­ing credit, most be­ing less ex­pe­ri­enced with the pro­cesses and pro­ce­dures of bor­row­ing from a bank­ing in­sti­tu­tion. Women re­ceive 7% of the agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion ser­vices and less than 10% of the credit of­fered to small-scale farm­ers. Ac­cord­ing to, “In the fight against poverty, African women and girls are the most af­fected pop­u­la­tion with less tools and op­por­tu­ni­ties to es­cape poverty. No mat­ter how it is cut – so­cially, eco­nom­i­cally, legally – girls and women in the poor­est coun­tries get a raw deal. For the girl child who is de­nied ed­u­ca­tion or forced into mar­riage, or for the mother who risks death when she gives life, or the farmer pre­vented from own­ing the land she works on”.

“Strong girl cam­paign­ers be­lieve, when you up­lift the woman or the girl child, ev­ery­one ben­e­fits. This makes women’s de­vel­op­ment crit­i­cal in the fight against poverty in gen­eral.”

Le­sego Mokone, an ex­pert on gen­derbased vi­o­lence, noted a few years ago that “our lack of un­der­stand­ing about the rea­sons why we should ed­u­cate the girl child is rooted in a deep gen­der bias that has kept Africa from achiev­ing last­ing de­vel­op­ment over the cen­turies”.

She ar­gued that this faulty ide­ol­ogy has brought set­backs to the African con­ti­nent in more ways than we can pos­si­bly imag­ine.

It has greatly af­fected how we per­ceive, treat and value the girl child. “Not ed­u­cat­ing the girl child re­duces her worth and also our col­lec­tive worth as a peo­ple. One of the many reper­cus­sions of these false ide­olo­gies is that, de­spite these neg­a­tive per­cep­tions, so­ci­ety still de­mands so much from women. I con­sider that to be sad and deeply un­fair,” said Mokone.

The web­site in­ter­na­tion­al­wom­ens­day. com has this sober procla­ma­tion and af­fir­ma­tion of the in­jus­tices which con­tinue to be per­pe­trated against women: “In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day cel­e­brates the so­cial, eco­nomic, cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal achieve­ment of women. Yet progress has slowed in many places across the world, so global ac­tion is needed to ac­cel­er­ate gen­der par­ity. In 2016, lead­ers across the world pledged to take ac­tion as cham­pi­ons of gen­der par­ity – not only for In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, but for ev­ery day. Groups and in­di­vid­u­als also pledged their sup­port.”

We can never truly be proud of our con­sti­tu­tion, which sets out the prin­ci­ples of equal­ity as per­tains to all of us, if we con­tinue to, col­lec­tively as a so­ci­ety, turn a blind eye to the struc­tural vi­o­lence com­mit­ted against our girl chil­dren and women.

‘Not ed­u­cat­ing the girl child re­duces her worth’

Meokgo Matuba is sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the ANC Women’s League

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