I while ago I read Greg Mortenson’s famous book, Three cups of tea and a phrase stuck in my mind. He states that if you really want a make a real long-lasting change in a society, you need to start with the girls. To improve basic hygiene and sanitations standards as well as high children mortality rates you need to start by educating girls. Women stay in their societies, become the leader and pillars of a society; when you educate a girl you are in the long term educating her whole society.
As the International Day of Girl Child approaches, I have been thinking a lot of what this means not only for us International organizations like SB OverSeas working on the field but also for researchers, scholars, families and communities in general.
According to UNESCO, 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school and 15 million girls of primary-school age—half of them in sub-Saharan Africa— will never enter a classroom. There are many variables as of why girls face several barriers when accessing education, this includes poverty, cultural norms and practices, violence and fragility among others. However today I want to stress about a very relevant issue that has a direct impact on girls education: early marriage.
According to different studies highlighted by Girls Not Brides, one of SB Overseas’ main partners when working to prevent child marriage, every year, 12 million girls are married globally before the age of 18. Evidence shows that girls who attend secondary school are three times less likely to be child brides, they also have better economic prospects, fewer and healthier children, and are more likely to ensure that their own children are not married before 18.
More attention needs to be given to girls’ education in providing job-relevant skills and training to enable them to participate in the workforce and to move from dreaming to achieving a better future. SB OverSeas has been implementing this approach for years, and we have seen the effect it has had on the girls in our community. By providing psychological support in our centers, and combining this with education and our “empowerment workshops” we have been able to prevent an early marriage in some cases and restore the confidence and give a future to those girls who had already been married.
But you do not need to leave your country to help address this problem, there are many ways in which you can devote a little bit of your time and effort to empower girls around the world. You can start by raising awareness about this situation, teaching your children and community about these realities to start making a generational change. You can also join as a volunteer or help by donating to a local NGO such as SB OverSeas who are working with refugee women here that have experienced early marriage and are looking for education and opportunities in your country.
Change starts by us even if it is small it has the power to change the mentalities, just help us help.
To learn more about child marriage and to read more stories from girls themselves, go to our website and read our “Just Married” comic series, and be up to date on the advocacy efforts of Girls Not Brides.