The Girl Child in All of Us: "I was not put on this earth to be invisible"

The Girl Child in All of Us: "I was not put on this earth to be invisible"

{Photo credit: Rui Pires.}Photo credit: Rui Pires.

We call on you to celebrate the girl child, read and support the Girl Declarationa call to action for the post-2015 development agenda to prioritize girls and stop poverty before it beginsand help educate and empower the girl child in all of us. 

@Girl Effect.}" height="598" width="400">The Girl Declaration Effect. Many of us are shaped by what we experience as children. For those in high-income countries, the world of the girl child is often full of possibilities and options. However, for many in low- and middle-income countries, the girl child lives in a world fraught with harsh realities and limited choices. To understand the journey of women, we must look at the girl child not only as a period in one’s life but as one which continues to live in all of us as we reach adulthood and beyond.

I was not put on this earth to be invisible.

For many, the sense of wonder and innocence we associate with young age is replaced by responsibilities in the household—carrying water and fuel wood from long distances and caring for younger siblings.

I was not born to be denied.

The girl child is taught to endure life rather than enjoy it. She learns from her mother how to cope with oppression rather than fight it. Her self-esteem is constantly barraged with messages from her family and community: she is inferior; she does not deserve the rights and privileges boys enjoy.

I was not given life only to belong to someone else. I belong to me.

What awaits the girl child is marriage at an age that she is physically, socially, and psychologically ill prepared to face.

I have a voice & I will use it. I have dreams unforgettable.

Even if she has the chance to go to school she is burdened with responsibilities that prevent her from competing equally with boys.

I have a name and it is not anonymous or insignificant or unworthy or waiting any more to be called.

In some communities, the girl child is exposed to harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting, which further damages her sexual and reproductive health. To make matters worse, she is also vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. 

Some day, they will say: this was the moment when the world woke up to my potential.

The girl child stays with us. The girl child does not grow old, because her experiences continue to both haunt and undermine her foreverand inspire her to change the life of other girls.

This is the moment I was allowed to be astonishing.

It is not surprising that as an adult the girl child can feel that it is safer and more secure to accept what she knows. But given the chance to be educated she seeks alternative ways to capture that world of possibilities that she was denied.

This is the moment when my rising no longer scares you.

Whether it is the life of her own daughter or other girls, the adult who has experienced life as a girl child and becomes educated becomes the voice of those who are not heard.

October 11 marks the International Day of the Girl Child, also known as “Day of the Girl.” This day focuses global attention on the needs of girls in poverty: to address the challenges they face, promote their empowerment, and fulfill their human rights. This year's theme, "Innovating for Girls' Education," provides a platform to inform others about the status of girls' education in the developing world and the positive results that can be obtained by investing in the girl child.

This is the moment when being a girl became my strength, my sanctuary, not my pain.

Education empowers individual girls, helps girls and women achieve their potential, and helps them make a difference in the life of other women and girls.

We led a gender training for women health workers in Ethiopia through the Leadership Management and Governance (LMG) project, one of several projects through which MSH works to address gender equity and empower girls. The LMG project is helping develop a curriculum for the Ethiopian Ministry of Health to support the health workforce incorporate gender into all activities. In this workshop, women educated and trained as midwives, nurses, pharmacists, and social workers are empowered to address gender in their workplace and make a difference in the lives of women and girls.

This is the moment when the world sees that I am held back by every problem and I am key to all solutions.

We asked four women in the gender training how they have been influenced by their experiences as a girl child, being educated, and how that experience impacts their work. The women health leaders—Fatumo, Nuria, Wubnat, and Sister Weyinishet—work in Ethiopian health agencies coordinating gender issues.


[Fatumo, gender officer from Somali region.] {Photo credit: Seble Daniel/MSH.}Fatumo, gender officer from Somali region.Photo credit: Seble Daniel/MSH.

When I see a woman who is circumcised, I remember what I endured during the operation, as well as during childbirth. Now I work day and night to make sure that every woman who is circumcised gets medical help when she delivers a baby. I try to redress the harm done to me by focusing on helping other women.


[Nuria, gender officer at the Ethiopian Nutrition Health and Research Institute (ENHRI).] {Photo credit: Seble Daniel/MSH.}Nuria, gender officer at the Ethiopian Nutrition Health and Research Institute (ENHRI).Photo credit: Seble Daniel/MSH.

When I see girls with their heads bowed down, I think about how we do not allow girls to develop self-esteem and self-confidence. I grew up with my head bowed, but now, because I am a mother of three girls, I make sure that they have confidence and self-esteem.


[Wubnat, gender officer of the Food, Medicines and Health Administration and Control Authority (FMHACA).] {Photo credit: Seble Daniel/MSH.}Wubnat, gender officer of the Food, Medicines and Health Administration and Control Authority (FMHACA).Photo credit: Seble Daniel/MSH.

Before working in the ministry of health, I worked in an orphanage taking care of girl children. I see orphan girls as the most vulnerable in society. They do not have a family for support, but are often responsible not only to themselves but for siblings.

Sister Weyinishet:

[Sister Weyinishet, gender officer from Emmanuel Hospital.] {Photo credit: Seble Daniel/MSH.}Sister Weyinishet, gender officer from Emmanuel Hospital.Photo credit: Seble Daniel/MSH.

I come from a poor family. When I see young girls on the street, I see myself in their situation and try to help. The girl child who does not have a home or who is not in school is exposed to much harm. I try to help in referring them and placing them in schools. If I did not have my education, I would not be able to help them.

In developing the Girl Declaration, 25 organizations worked with over 500 girls from 14 countries from 4 continents, who were asked what they need to help them reach their potential. The result of their work for and by girls is a declaration, guiding principles, and recommendations for the post-2015 development agenda. 

This is the moment when a girl and a girl and a girl, and 250 million other girls say, with voices loud, that this is our moment. This is my moment. This, yes, this is the moment.

We grew up in Ethiopia, in the world of the girl child. We have walked in the shoes of the girl child, and we want to make sure today’s girl child has choices and opportunities for a healthy life. We want to reclaim that age of innocence, wonder, discovery, and dream through education so the girl child of today can stand on our shoulders and go far beyond where we have gone. We have been the girl child, we carry our girl child, and we are in this together.

Men, women, girls, and boys: Support the Girl Declaration. And wherever you are, see, feel, hear, and empower the voices of the girl child.

The girl child will never leave us. The girl child is in all of us.

Belkis Giorgis, PhD, is MSH’s global technical lead on gender and the gender and capacity building senior technical advisor for the Leadership, Management, and Governance (LMG) Project. Seble Daniel is gender advisor on the LMG project in Ethiopia. Rachel Hassinger contributed to this post.

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