Thanks to increased global commitments to girls’ health, education, and well-being, today’s generation is better equipped to enter the workforce than ever before. Yet, far too many adolescent girls continue to face social, economic, and cultural barriers that impede their education and livelihoods. Even more face challenges accessing comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), which serves as a tool for adolescent girls to take control of their bodies, plan their futures, and avoid unintended pregnancy and child, early, and forced marriage. Today, as the world celebrates International Day of the Girl Child and considers what it takes to create a “skilled girlforce,” IWHC stresses the importance of empowering girls through comprehensive sexuality education, linked with access to the full-range of sexual and reproductive health services.
In 2016, adolescent girls in developing countries had an estimate of 777,000 births, with 58 percent of them taking place in Africa, 28 percent in Asia, and 14 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. For mothers 15 and under, more than one-third of these births were unplanned. Most of them took place in the context of marriage, which is not surprising given that 12 million girls under the age of 18 become child brides annually.
Comprehensive sexuality education that addresses gender norms, human rights, and power within relationships, can help reduce child marriage and unplanned pregnancies by equipping young people with skills to navigate their sexualities and take control over their lives. In Kenya, a program that used interactive and critical thinking methods to highlight the higher rates of HIV in older men and the consequences of “sugar daddy” relationships, achieved a 28 percent reduction in teen pregnancy rates among program participants.
IWHC grantee partners, Promsex and TICAH are leading players in the field of adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights in Peru and Kenya, respectively. The sexuality curriculums they have developed in partnership with the communities they serve address the impact of harmful gender norms and gender-based violence on adolescent girls. Through support and peer groups, adolescent girls learn about their sexualities and bodies, but, perhaps most importantly, they are able to ask questions free from any bias or judgement—for many girls, this is the first and/or only place where they can do so.
In Pakistan, our grantee partner Aahung works with schools and communities to implement their Life Skills Based Education (LSBE) program, which introduces children and adolescents to critical reproductive health information and skills in line with their emerging capacities. The LSBE program has a strong emphasis on exploring issues of gender and power. It starts by addressing issues such as body empowerment and protection, changes to the body during puberty, and awareness about harassment and sexual abuse. As adolescents become more mature, they start learning more about other health topics such as contraception, abortion, and HIV/AIDS. The skills that girls gain through these programs have helped them to negotiate with their families to stay in school, avoid child marriage, and take control of their futures.
While feminist organizations have made great strides in addressing the needs of adolescent girls, they cannot do it alone. Governments and UN agencies must equally engage and hold themselves accountable toward ensuring a “skilled girlforce.”
If the global community envisions a world in which adolescent girls are the future, then they need to continue putting girls at the center of the very programs that are designed to empower them. Nothing for adolescent girls, without adolescent girls.
Photo: Adil Hussain