Sierra Leoneans celebrated in the streets last month when 42 days passed without a single new case of Ebola. The mix of mourning and jubilation called to mind the signing of a peace treaty after a war, and the end of Ebola should indeed be greeted as a victory.
Not often does one come across a girl who is interested in chasing a career in agriculture. Paradoxically, research shows that more than 60 per cent of women worldwide are responsible for putting food on the table. In that case, why aren’t more people, notably young women taking up a profession in agriculture?
For young girls hailing from disadvantaged communities, activities such as competitive sports not only encourage them to discuss sensitive health issues but also empower them to take up leadership roles in their societies. For women, participating in team sports also enables a sense of unity that helps them be seen as champions within their communities.
We face tremendous problems keeping girls in school as they transition through adolescence. In Sierra Leone, 30 per cent of reported rapes take place in the school environment, and a recent ruling banned 'visibly pregnant' girls from school. When the school itself becomes a hostile setting, it should come as no surprise that dropout rates shoot up.
Engaging in sports intrinsically makes you more mindful about your body. You may start speculating how to be healthier – a good entry point for inquiring about your general well-being. For adolescent girls in marginalised communities, these questions can lead to discussions about more sensitive topics, particularly sexual and reproductive health.
Violet is 21 years old, married and a mother of two. She is also the owner of a steelworks business where her husband is one of her employees. When she speaks of expanding her business, her voice is full of confidence and hope, undeterred when others make jokes about how she manages her husband.
Around 20 girls sit in a small room, decorated with messages about leadership, reproductive health and family planning along with pictures they have drawn themselves. This is a BRAC Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) club. This particular club called Bwebajja is located in a semi-urban area, under BRAC’s Kajjansi branch in Uganda. Huddled together, the girls look up at us, muzungus (foreigners) with awe and anticipation. They know who we are. They know BRAC. They call it “Blaca.”
Everyone, from Save the Children, Plan International, and UNICEF, to BRAC, agrees that the early years are critical to a child’s overall development. How best to invest in those early years is a fertile topic for exploration and debate among academics, scientists, and policymakers. What if early childhood and adolescent development was also seen as a potential career path for women?
Ajah is nineteen, and attends Bor Secondary School in South Sudan’s remote Jonglei state. In a country with a literacy rate of just sixteen percent for women fifteen years of age and above, Ajah is an exception to the rule. And she is leading the charge to change the rules.