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Rock the Gender Block: Making spaces for Girls

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October 8, 2022

By Mudasser Siddiqui, Country Director of Plan International Ethiopia and Hanadi Yusuf, Girls Advocate and Board of Youth Advisory Panel

Regardless of being a single day, International Day of Girls on 11 October is a beautiful day for all of us to reflect on and celebrate the strides made in girls’ leadership, empowerment and transformation.

Girls Leadership exists to help create a space where all girls are included, embraced and belong. There has been increased attention on issues that matter to girls amongst governments, donors, civil societies and the general public, and more opportunities for girls to have their voices heard on different stages. Yet, making space for girls in social and political spheres remains limited and girls continue to confront a myriad of challenges by concurrent crises of conflict and climate change.

In 1995, the Beijing Declaration is the first to specifically call out girls’ rights. On December 19, 2011, United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. While observing the 10th anniversary of the International Day of the Girl (IDG) globally, this year’s theme is “Our time is now—our rights, our future” considering girls’ inequality in the political sphere and the status quo in the conflict and drought situation that denies them equal access to education, health, economy and social role. Whether insentient or not, gender bias is something that many girls face on a regular basis. It’s no longer good enough just to recognize bias; it’s something we all need to actively challenge when we see it happening. 

Starting from global to local level the participation of women in leadership positions is low. Even though Women have shown proven abilities for leadership, they are still underrepresented in different sectors. Women are facing several barriers to participation in political, economic, social, and cultural lives. According to UN WOMEN report as of September 1st, 2021, there are only 26 women serving as heads of states in 24 countries. At the current rate – gender equality in the highest position of power will not be reached for another 130 years. Just 10 countries have women head of state and 13 countries have women head of government. Only 21% of government ministers were women, with only 14 countries having 50% or more women in cabinets.

In case of Ethiopia even though women and girls play an important role in different sectors, they are still expected to play the role of caregivers in the family. Considering the importance of women and girls’ participation in the country, in 2018 the current Ethiopian government took a reform and measure by appointing 10 women ministers which was 50% of the ministerial posts in Ethiopia. But to make the change long-lasting and address socio-economic problems for women and girls in Ethiopia, their representation and participation need to be at all levels i.e from local to national levels not just at the level of cabinet ministers.    

Many factors have contributed to women and girls’ low representation and participation in various sectors in the country, like gender discrimination, gender stereotype, male domination, double responsibility, sociocultural attitudes, educational gaps, etc. Gender stereotyping presents a serious obstacle to the achievement of real girls’ equality and feeds into gender discrimination. Struggling with different gender norms is improving, but the other side of the coin is the worst drought that Ethiopia has seen for the last 40 years is devastating the country and women and girls are being disproportionately impacted as mothers struggle to feed their children, girls forced into child marriage and drop out of school and both women and girls face rising levels of violence. As the tension rises to find food and fetch water putting families under pressure, girls and young girls are forced to make sacrifices.

Despite all the above-mentioned challenges, there are many girls and young women who are trying to break the bias and play a vital role in the county. Like Hanadi Yusuf, a young girl considers herself a proud feminist who advocates for equality of women and girls in Ethiopia. Hanadi is currently volunteering on Plan International Ethiopia’s Youth Advisory Board and working as a Deputy Chair Person. When Hanadi was asked how she become an advocate for girls’ rights in Ethiopia, she says, she got motivation and inspiration from her grandmother and mother. Her grandmother was a very strong and intelligent elderly woman who taught her a lot about having a strict mindset, going for what she wants in life, and never giving up.” She was chairwoman in one of the government offices in Ethiopia in the past and every time someone comes to her office, people had a hard time accepting that the office was run by (her)women, and she had to explain women can do anything that man does.

Like her grandmother, Hanadi started exercising her leadership role by taking over the position of Sweden’s Ambassador to Ethiopia Hans Lundquist for a half day as part of the International Day of Girl 2022 commemoration through the #GirlsTakover initiative. Girls and young women are recognized and valued as drivers of change in their communities and beyond. They are supported to meaningfully and safely engage across local and national decision-making spaces as leaders and activists. Girls must have Equal Power to shape an inclusive and gender-equal world.

Hanadi also stated that she was raised by a single mother who is a strong person to make a stand and fight for change in the face of inequality. Hanadi Yusuf says, my mother is also my role model because she does so much for me; she gives me everything she has just to make my life easier. For me, girls’ inequality extends beyond a singular gender barrier to the multi-faceted reality which is often overlooked. Hanadi is currently engaged in awareness creation for equality of girls and strongly advocates for girls’ rights in Ethiopia to highlight the need to make space for girls in political, social and economic decision-making processes.

This year’s International Day of Girls theme sends an important message to Hanadi and her peers out there. Hanadi also stated that the world is changing every day and girls are still fighting for equality and If we are ever going to achieve true equality for girls across every societal, cultural and political zone, then we need to break all of the biases which have become standard practice. The ‘Girls inequality’ for Hanadi is going beyond prejudice and whilst that might seem obvious, we are fighting against prejudices so ingrained that most of us don’t even know they are there.    

In a country like Ethiopia with a lot of burdens, a patriarchal society, a community rid with sexual and gender-based violence, deep-rooted social problems and gender-related biases – the settings are different, the challenges are unique but each of these problems and challenges is woven together with grit. Ethiopian women who pass through these challenges give us a peek from their exposures, rewrite their ups and down into tales of confidence and raise a strong legacy for the generations to come.

Civil Society Groups should invest in empowering girls in Ethiopia by promoting equal access to education, health, and economic opportunities. In doing so, they help create opportunities for more equitable participation in society for girls across the country to break the bias. When empowered girls rise up together, they break isolation, build solidarity, and strengthen movements that challenge the prevalent social, economic, and political barriers to their voices and dreams.

To achieve Equal Power Now, Girls are calling for action across four ‘Pathways to Change’:

  • Decision-makers at all levels must institutionalize the meaningful and safe participation of girls and their groups in socio-political processes.
  • National and local governments must ensure access to diverse and inclusive pathways toward social, economic and political participation, including resources and civic education.
  • Governments and the media (both mainstream and social) must adopt a zero-tolerance approach to violence toward the socio-political participation of girl activists.
  • UN, governments, and civil society should recognize girls’ vital and distinct role in civil society.

It is time for all of us to uplift the voices of girls everywhere those who hesitate to speak up about bias at all levels and outside of it, and those who are actively advocating against it.

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