About a Girl

This year’s theme for International Day of the Girl is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, which highlights the Sustainable Development Goals’ emphasis on improving lives for girls and women.

For millions of girls around the world (including in the U.S) the key to reaching their full potential comes down to where they are born, the color of their skin, and socioeconomics. The reality for too many girls is they leave school too early, marry too young and become mothers before they’ve reached adulthood. This puts them at far higher risk for of lifelong disabilities or even death from pregnancy and childbirth. Their chances at making a good living and escaping violence are also diminished. All of this adds to the cycle of poverty too many girls live with every day, and repeats generation to generation.

The good news is that girls, so long overlooked, have risen to the forefront of what is needed to solve entrenched cycles of poverty and inequity. Currently, the UN and other organizations are very focused on the health and wellbeing of girls. At EMC, we will continue doing our part by offering education and support to families through our grants, and holding the world to task to follow through on promises to adolescent girls around the world.

Our grantees from Uganda, India, Nepal, and the United States share the challenges girls face in their countries.

Uganda

Limited education, high teen pregnancy rates and high maternal mortality rates are common in Uganda, where less than 19% of girls attend secondary school.

In rural Uganda, the girl does the cooking, fetches water, gathers firewood, cleans the compound, and is the ‘acting mother’ at home — meaning in the absence of the mother, the girl stays home to take care of the rest of the family, and chances are, she’ll likely miss school. When she gets to adolescent age, she cannot talk freely about her body changes or menstrual cycle. Many girls end up dropping out of school because they have no funds to afford sanitary towels. Since the girl is the one fetching water and gathering firewood, she is at risk of men/boys attacking her along the way.

Motherhood is tough for teen moms: the father is either also a teen or a married man. In either case, the teen mom and her baby are not part of a planned family. I have met teen moms who were expelled by their parents after becoming pregnant and had to fend for themselves. I have also met those who were abandoned by their partners and had to depend on well-wishers for basics like baby blankets.

Paul Meyende, Public Relations Coordinator at Baylor Uganda College of Medicine

India

Our partner Nazdeek, trains women in India about their right to healthcare and how to hold the government to task to provide it. About 18% of adolescents in India are married by 15 and 47% are married by 18. Sukti Dhital, Executive Director of Nazdeek says:

Girls in the communities we work with struggle to get basic services necessary to live a dignified life. Because their families earn so little, they’re at risk for child marriage. They fight to remain in schools, and lack access to proper healthcare and nutrition. Young moms often struggle to maintain any control over their reproductive freedom. They lack reproductive choice and are denied the education and health services they need to ensure safe motherhood.

Nepal

About 37% of girls under age 18 work in child labor conditions in Nepal and 41% are married. Our partner One Heart World Wide (who established emergency clinics following this spring’s earthquake) talks about the challenges adolescent girls and young moms face in Nepal

We work in remote rural areas of Nepal where young women are often married before they’re 18, and go to live with their husband’s family. Most quit their education after marriage to stay home, do household chores and work in the fields. Teen motherhood isn’t unusual. Young women are pressured to become pregnant as soon as possible because the duty of a good Nepali wife is to produce sons. These young mothers have difficulties accessing regular healthcare because of geographical location, time and/or money constraints, as well as traditional cultural beliefs. Although a teen mom may be educated about the importance of prenatal check ups, in rural Nepali societies pregnancy is considered a natural part of life, and therefore it’s unnecessary to see a healthcare professional unless a complication arises. Additionally, after giving birth, the mother is expected to get back to work doing household chores and fieldwork. It’s the mother-in-law’s job to take care of the baby. Another challenge Nepali girls face is that during menstruation, girls cannot enter the house. They’re forced to sleep in unsanitary conditions, on the floor, typically in a shed.

The United States

The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any developed country and birth rates are highest among poor Hispanic and black adolescents. Our partners in Florida (Commonsense Childbirth) and Brooklyn (Ancient Song Doula Services) serve low-income girls and women of color. Jennie Joseph, Certified Nurse-Midwife and founder of Commonsense Childbirth says:

So many pregnant or parenting teenage women have little or no support. The school system isn’t equipped to help them maintain their studies and unless there’s availability at a public school for pregnant teens, there’s a high chance they’ll fall behind or drop out. Hiding of pregnancies or missing school days for pregnancy-related concerns increases their stress and the odds of a preterm or low birth weight infant. There’s also less likelihood they’ll initiate or maintain breastfeeding. Teen motherhood is lonely and young women become isolated, depressed, overwhelmed and many times have difficulty bonding with their babies. This can have deep and long lasting impact on the mothers, babies, fathers, grandparents and ultimately the community.

Statistics provided by:

Unicef

Information by country. (n.d.). Retrieved October 5, 2015, from http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/

CIA The World Factbook

(n.d.). Retrieved October 6, 2015, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/

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