When I first heard of the Witches’ camps in Bimbilla, Northern Ghana where they exile women accused of witchcraft and sorcery, what struck me most wasn’t the, admittedly cruel, plight of old women forced into conditions of extreme poverty by superstitious, ignorant communities, but the little girls forced to go into the camps with their grandmothers, whose futures were predetermined, their lives spent as servants. These girls would never be welcome in their communities, they would never receive an education and they would never have families of their own. Their whole lives would be spent in the witches’ camps facing a tomorrow mired in despair.
Then we hear of mixed race girls in Mombasa who are sold at birth by their mothers into brothels and trained as sex workers to be pushed into street work at soon as their breasts sprout, sometimes even before their menstrual cycle begins. These girls face a future of abuse at the hands of Johns and cruel pimps, one where they’re forced to terminate countless pregnancies and have to endure cycles of Venereal disease.
Little girls in various parts of Africa that go through initiation rites that involve the mutilation of their private parts without adequate knowledge how circumcision will affect their sexual and reproductive health afterwards and what it’ll mean for the maternal and infant morbidity and mortality rates in their community. Those that are married off early and denied access to education. Those that are raped and impregnated, whose fathers are compensated with a goat while she receives a thorough beating for unduly ‘enticing’ her abuser.
There has been much progress made in the deliverance of girls from the jaws of the patriarchy, but the statistics indicate that there’s a lot more to do. While we rejoice in the success stories of women who rose from the ashes of painful childhoods, who were forced by circumstances to abandon their girlhood and embrace womanhood too soon in order to survive, we must look back and realize that these are only 1 in a thousand.
The African woman with access has fought and is fighting endlessly for it. It’s not many who will look at a little African girl and imagine her being president or the owner of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate. Most only see disposable servants and goods for hire. It’s why stories of rape, abuse and mutilation still linger. Why childhood ends at pubescence for girls. Why they grow into self depreciating vessels of insecurity. Why the phrase
“African women, mules of the world,”
is still relevant today, 78 years after Zora Neal Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God. Why it was necessary for the United Nations to adopt a resolution to mark 11th October as the International Day of The Girl, to recognize girl’s rights and the unique challenges faced by the girlchild everyday, worldwide.
This year, girls born at the turn of the millennium turn 15, just in time to assess the progress made on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since their implementation in the year 2000 and sets goals to be achieved by 2030, when girls born this year will have reached their own adolescence. As the international community reflects on the progress made in the last 15 years, it is an opportune time to reflect on the importance of supporting adolescent girls in their transition to womanhood by investing heavily in their social, economic and political growth to break inter-generational cycles of poverty, violence, exclusion and discrimination.
Girls have the right to a safe, educated and healthy life. If effectively supported they have the potential to change the world if we make an effort to uphold their rights today, in their formative years and as they mature into women- workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, political leaders household heads, mentors etc. In recognition for the role adolescent girls play as key actors in achieving a sustainable and equitable world, the theme for 2015’s International Day of the Girl Child is #IDG2015: The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030.
Take your time, empower a girl today. The future depends on it.