Commentary: Listen to Girls
15 June 2010
Anne McPhersonVice President, Global Communications [email protected]
For girls in the poorest communities, adolescence merges indistinguishably into adulthood. They are forced to marry and bear children while still children themselves. They bear the burden of chores to cook, clean, fetch water and firewood. They work in fields and care for family members. Their labor is the backbone upon which many poor families survive. But this ultimately denies them opportunities, like an education, to fulfill their true potential. The costs are innumerable, not just to girls but to their families, communities and nations.
Girls everywhere deserve an adolescence that prepares them for all of life’s possibilities. What’s more, girls themselves hold the solutions. They understand acutely the obstacles that bar them from opportunities. And they have clear ideas about what needs to change in their lives for them to succeed.
Listening to girls and their aspirations is an obvious but overlooked starting point for addressing the challenges they face. Few policies and programs are directed to adolescent girls or account for the environment in which they live. As a result, many efforts fail.
It’s time for girls to speak out – and for the world to listen. What difference will it make to listen to girls?
First, girls’ views of the barriers that stand in their way point out how to intervene. Girls cannot change their lives on their own. A Moroccan school girl explains, “Though we are girls, we have dreams and hobbies, and we want to achieve goals, but we don’t find help that can lead us to fulfill these dreams.” In order to change their lives, we must find ways to open the minds of those around them.
Second, it will assure policymakers and program managers that girls have the self-determination required to begin better lives. “I want to see progress in my life,” says an 18-year-old girl from Ghana. “Every human being prays for good things, and I am no exception.”
Third, girls’ voices confirm what the growing body of research proves. Invest in their education, health, economic opportunities, and delay marriage and childbearing to see long-term change for themselves and their families. “I just want to get a job of my own, [and] help my parents who looked after me when I was young,” says a 14-year-old from urban Uganda.
Beyond listening, the world must respond. We cannot afford to deny the largest generation of girls in history a chance to change their lives – and our world – for the better.
Our publication, Girls Speak: A New Voice in Global Development, draws together girls’ voices and the powerful ideas they have to improve their lives.