Let Girls Lead is thrilled to continue our celebration of International Day of the Girl 2014 with this new entry to our blog series written by amazing girl leaders involved in our work around the world. Today we share the perspectives of two remarkable girls, Aselef of Ethiopia and Norwukh of Liberia, on the gender gap in sports and education respectively. Aselef shares her personal story of perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity towards girls playing football, while Norwukh sheds light on the complex obstacles girls must overcome in Liberia on their path to education.
My name is Aselef and I am a team captain for the female football team of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) of Ethiopia. At only 19 years old, I have already been able to influence leaders to invest more in youth. In the chance of a lifetime, I was able to meet with Prime Minister David Cameron and Melinda Gates at the 2014 International Family Planning Conference. I talked to them about my life and who I wish to become. Because of my time with them, young people's issues were highlighted at the international meeting, where Mr. Cameron started his speech at the conference by sharing my name and story. My influence also led the government of Ethiopia to considerably increase its support to young people and family planning programs.
This is my story:
My life as an adolescent girl was filled with adversity. I grew up with my mother and eight brothers, after losing my father earlier in my life. To support my mother, I had to work part-time as a weaver while also attending school. It was difficult because I had always been interested in soccer, but being accepted in the community as a girl footballer was difficult. Even my own brothers didn't support me because they too believed girls shouldn't do sports. People said that I "should go back to the kitchen where I belong" and that "I wouldn't get anywhere by being a footballer." "You are a girl" they said, and "you shouldn't put your leg up, let alone play football." Despite all of the pressure to stop playing and the negative opinions of others, I persevered and continued doing what I love - playing football.
I had no time to get distracted, as I had to attend school, football practice, and my part-time work. Fortunately, the football team allowed me to gain friends who were going through similar experiences and mentors who supported me through difficult times, while encouraging me to become the best person I could be.
Now, I truly believe I can be an inspiration to girls my age. I have survived it all - poverty, hard work, supporting a family, verbal abuse, and condescending comments. I believe girls all over the world can overcome their challenges and become successful in whatever they put their minds to. We, as girls, should say no to violence, yes to education, and, most of all, believe in ourselves.
Why does education matter for girls in Liberia?
Adolescent girls are more exposed to danger than boys. That is to say, we are the ones who are mostly impacted by danger in our society. We are the victims and survivors of early marriage, teenage pregnancy, sexual violence, discrimination, and the lack of healthcare. We are the ones left behind in our society for so many reasons, especially ignorance and the high poverty rate in our country. While parents send their boys to school, they make their girls to sit at home because they feel that adolescent girls' education is not essential compared to boys' education. Instead, parents expect their girls to serve as breadwinners for their home, as they feel that their girls are young and able to attract men who can provide for them financially.
Education, however, is very important for adolescent girls too. It is important that we be given the opportunity to have a secondary education, to prepare for higher education, or be trained directly in our professions.
In Liberia, education is very complex and needs improvement. There are a series of areas that need more attention, focus, hard work, and improvement. As we all know, reading is a fundamental function in today's society as it means we are more likely to do well in all facets of education; it brings academic excellence, makes us masters of language, gives us more logical thinking skills, enhances our concentration and discipline, and brings acclimation to new experiences. However, access to reading is not equal for boys and girls. Some of the problems facing adolescent girls in education across Liberia are:
- A lack of access to reading materials that appeal to adolescent girls' interests.
- No instructions that build the skills and desire necessary to read increasingly complex materials.
- No assessment that shows both the strengths and needs of adolescent girls.
- No expert teachers who are modeling and providing explicit instructions across the curriculum.
- No reading specialists for students who have reading difficulties.
- Not enough teachers who understand the complexities of adolescent girls, both as a whole and as individuals. Rather, we have teachers who sexually harass, rather than help us develop our minds, our imaginations, the creative side of us, and our good self-image.
Liberia cannot hope to develop as a nation without educating adolescent girls because we play a vital role in our all-around progress. When an adolescent girl is educated and grows, she will be able to work on her own and earn money for her family. Also, she will bear fewer children and be able to take care of them to the fullest. She will love and cherish her family, and she will have the opportunity to explore the world on her own and make a genuine choice about what kind of family she wants.
Ultimately, when you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but when you educate a girl, you educate an entire nation.
We invite you to follow our @LetGirlsLead blog series, running from Monday, September 22nd to the International Day of the Girl on Saturday, October 11th on the Huffington Post. Each piece is an intimate window into the experiences of a girl leader and what she is doing to make the world a better place. Through the series, you can learn firsthand about the challenges facing girls globally and the amazing work girls are doing to create a better future.
Let Girls Lead is building a global movement of Champions who empower girls to attend school, stay healthy, escape poverty, and overcome violence. Let Girls Lead invests in girls and their allies to lead social change through advocacy, education, storytelling, economic empowerment, and strategic partnerships. Since 2009, Let Girls Lead's externally validated model has contributed to improved health, education, livelihoods, and rights for more than 3 million girls through laws, programs, and funding. Let Girls Lead's sister initiative, Champions for Change, leverages this proven model to save the lives of women, newborns, and children by empowering leaders and organizations to advocate for reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health in Nigeria.
Champions for Change and Let Girls Lead are headquartered at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, CA, a leader in global health and development for 50 years.