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  • International Day Of The Girl Child 2021: Reflecting On The Necessary Work Ahead International Day Of The Girl Child 2021: Reflecting On The Necessary Work Ahead

    International Day Of The Girl Child 2021: Reflecting On The Necessary Work Ahead

    By virtue of her gender and by virtue of her youth, the girl child’s vulnerabilities are undeniable. While navigating the physical and emotional challenges of adolescence, the Rwandan girl child is also expected to flourish into the strong woman upon which the family structure, and the community at large, will rest. During the past month dedicated to International Day of The Girl Child activities, we found it imperative to take the time to critically assess the challenges that remain on the Rwandan girl child’s journey to healthy development.

    This reflection is fundamental to devising means of contributing to the empowerment of our young Rwandan girls. Unequivocally, they deserve to reach their highest potential. Such success will be an instrument of confidence and pride in their identity, which can serve as a formidable shield against any threats evolving in a world that can be unkind to women could pose.

    Confronting Present Threats

    It is almost impossible to consider any feature of Rwandan society without reflecting on the multi-faceted, and long lasting, impact of the 1994 Genocide Against The Tutsi. The Rwandan girl child now exists in an environment that bears the scars of the kind of systemic gender-based violence that marred 1994. In those scars can fester the consequences of diverse patriarchal misconceptions, from which are bred unequal gender relationships that continue to hurt our entire societies, in the long run.

    Many of the young girls that experience the inherited trauma of the violent sexual abuse that was weaponized during the genocide do not obtain the appropriate support. This is not just due to the limited funding of therapy and reproductive health initiatives; sometimes the reticence of their community to welcome such services makes adherence to programmes designed to assist them difficult to achieve. However, it is the responsibility of any morally-driven project, as reproductive and mental health initiatives ought to be, to simultaneously educate – patiently, diligently – as it treats or counsels.

    In Rwanda, Imbuto Foundation joined the fight against these misconceptions and harmful doctrines through the Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (ASRH&R) programme, over 10 years ago. As Imbuto prepares itself to celebrate 20 years of offering reproductive health related services - amongst many other programmes in varying fields - we ought to assess how deeply present initiatives can impact our communities’ treatment of the girl child.

    To promote a culture of awareness, the ASRH&R programme pairs schools and out-of-school clubs with youth organizations and health centres, where the youth can access youth-friendly services and information related to their sexual reproductive health. This programme also trains peer educators to raise awareness about HIV & AIDS and teaches adolescents about the risks of teenage pregnancies, as well as how to reduce them. The Imbuto ASRH model not only protects the girl child - through educating her on her entitlement to consensual physical exchanges and bearing a healthy body - but it also educates the boy child on his equally important role in making informed decisions that protect him, and his sisters.

    Protection Against Predatory Behaviour

    The risks to being uninformed multiply when exposed to individuals or entities that share this misinformation, but hold relative power. There was once an alarming trend across the country (from the years of 2008 to 2015, teen pregnancy prevalence increased from 5.7% to 7.2%.), which showed the urgent need for preventive and aftercare programs. Teen mothers are frequently the victims of sexual abuse, so an increase in their number could be indicative of a rise in sexual assault against young girls. These girls can often be burdened by a culture of silence, and a lack of understanding of how their bodies work. Therefore, they can be particularly vulnerable to falling prey to predatory adolescents or adults who have evolved in a community that nurtured the taboo of sexual assault, and as a result pushed victims into muteness.

    While impressive strides have been taken to diminish teenage pregnancies’ prevalence in Rwanda, the issue of sexual abuse still threatens the healthy development of many young women. The government of Rwanda might have been striving to decrease the occurrence of sexual abuse by jailing rapists, but convincing victims of sexual abuse to press charges remains a challenge, while the sometimes fragile and impermanent nature of evidence of sexual violence hinders further the prosecution process.

    On the International Day of The Girl Child 2021, the government of Rwanda released a list of 322 convicted sexual offenders. This effort could potentially protect women, girls, young men and boys from sexual assault at the hands of a recurring offender. But most importantly, it could encourage more victims to come forward.

    Raising Empowered Women

    A strong woman isn’t just an educated woman; she’s also one comfortable with being vocal, even when her message may strike as unpopular. The same silence that discourages women and girls from denouncing rapists can hinder their personal and professional lives in a myriad of ways. Consider the number of young girls that are pulled out of school to “tend to the home” or “help their parents out with their work”. While this act is illegal (9 years of primary and secondary school are compulsory for all Rwandan children) and school enrolment is growing at an average of 7.8% a year, the female retention rate is still considerably lower than that of their male counterparts.

    Young girls need to be empowered into speaking out about this injustice; their parents’ failures must be reported. In order to dismantle the insidious patriarchy that justifies withholding basic rights such as education from young women and girls, we need to hear from them. Their voice needs to resonate beyond the ears of the mentors and caregivers that health initiatives lead to them, and echo in society at large. They need to be supported as they take the first steps towards self-protection and proclaiming their rights to opportunities.

    Offering The Girl Child Optimism

    Now more than ever, the girl child needs optimism.
    It has been challenging not to notice the bleakness the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic featured. In Rwanda, spectacular efforts have been made to shift this dark cloud, however persistent it has felt over the past year and a half.
    A bright future must be strived for and must remain accessible for children regardless of background or gender. Children must feel that their development and growth are leading them to happiness, health and safety. In order to do this, more programmes must be initiated and implemented to reach out to the girl child and prove our community’s desire to nurture and even cherish her. Only then can we offer her holistic self-development, which in turn leads to healthier and more prosperous communities.

    One such programme, the ’’Edified Generation’’ that sprouted from the First Lady’s Foundation has led the way in supporting well-performing students. Over 9,000 young people, both girls and boys from vulnerable families, have had their education funded by this programme. And yet, the work ahead remains imposing. Beyond IDGC month, it is imperative to still reflect on the number of female children that require support beyond school attendance, and sexual and reproductive healthcare. Their mental health must be protected, their creativity and innovative spirit cultivated, and their voice amplified. To achieve this, we must all band as a society, every day after this celebration, to do the necessary to see our girls flourish.