Wednesday morning was an exciting morning for the Rocky Crest High School female learners, as they had the opportunity to engage with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Namibia Ms. Dennia Gayle through the UN System in Namibia’s ‘Prosperous Paths’ outreach programme.
After a brief introduction by the National Information Officer to Namibia, Ms. Anthea Basson, Ms. Gayle asked the girls to share their thoughts on women’s empowerment, as she emphasized that the minds of young people produce some of the best ideas.
Answering the question ‘why is it important to invest in teenage girls?’, Ms. Gayle reminded the learners that although teenage girls around the world face more and greater challenges than their male counterparts, it does not mean that the boy child is not affected but rather the depth of the challenges faced by the girls is higher than that of boys.
Ms. Gayle said, “We know that girls are subjected to sexual and gender-based violence […] And we also know that without education, when you have poor health and when you have little or no opportunities or control over your own body, your future can be severely compromised. So that explains why we need some level of focus on adolescent girls. We need to think about what are the right investments that we need to make in the life of an adolescent girl so that she can realize her full potential. And in doing so, your country, your community and your family can benefit.”
Another example she used was that girls get forced to be married off and then drop out of school. As a result, they have a compromised future as they will not have sufficient education to find work and support herself hence why there is a need to invest in the teenage girls.
Stressing to the girls that gender inequality is a reality, Ms. Gayle outlined very telling statistics. She said that today in the world there are 1.8 billion people who are between the ages 10 and 24 (a quarter of the world’s population). Having such a large younger population is a first in the history of the world, and each day in developing countries 20,000 girls under the age of 18 give birth. This amounts to 7.3 million births a year.
She continued to highlight these other important statistics:
- Suicide is the leading cause of death among girls between the ages of 15 and 19
- Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls (15-19).
- 95% of the world’s births to adolescents (aged 15-19) take place in developing countries.
- 10% of girls who had sex before age 15 said it was coerced
- In developing countries, one in every three girls is married before reaching age 18. One in nine is married under age 15.
- In the next decade, 13.5 million girls under 18 will be married every year; this translates to 37,000 girls married each day.
- AIDS is a leading cause of deaths among adolescents in Africa, and it is the second greatest cause of death among adolescents globally.
- Every year, some 3 million girls (aged 15-19) resort to unsafe abortions, risking their lives and health.
Ms. Gayle then mentioned that a lot of times adolescent pregnancy is the result of girls not having the choice to be pregnant. Ms. Gayle said, “Maybe you were not given the information, maybe you were not given the services, maybe you went to talk to somebody and they didn’t listen to you, maybe somebody coerced or forced or raped you. And these are things are important to talk about because it is important for you to know that you have a right for those things not to happen in your life.”
She continued, “Nobody has the right to violate you, and if they do so, there should be consequences to that. And if anybody tells you that you have to hush hush and can’t say anything that is a lie. If you have a trusted adult in your life, you go to that trusted adult. If you want information about something, seek that information. If you want services, seek those services, and if anybody tells you that you are too young to be asking those questions or you are too young to be asking for that information, tell them that you are young enough to be equipped with that information that will make a difference in your life.”
Ms. Gayle then talked to the girls about the ‘3 Es’ which stand for empowerment, education and employment. She explained empowerment is about giving the girls the right ammunition for them to go out and make the right decisions and choices, emphasizing that girls need to stand up for their rights, expand their opportunities and be able to make good decisions.
Touching on education, the second ‘e’, Ms. Gayle stressed that the provision of good and quality education that is equal and universal to both boys and girls is important and it can help put the girls on a stage to compete not only on a regional, but also an international level. Making herself an example she told the girls that she came from Costa Rica to work in Namibia, so she wants to see a Namibian girl go to Costa Rica and work there. She urged the girls to seek out quality education that will equip them for global competencies. Also, Ms. Gayle emphasized that if a girl gets pregnant she should have the ability to go back to school and finish her education.
Ms. Gayle linked employment, the third ‘e’, to education, saying that education prepares the girls for the employment market. She further urged the girls to study diverse subjects as, “We don’t only need lawyers and doctors but we also need technical skills, employment choices should be diverse. A country that is industrialized, that has big investment and promotes both formal work and entrepreneurship is the one that we need.”
As a call to action Ms. Gayle echoed the UN Resident Coordinator Ms Kiki Gbeho and encouraged the girls to claim their spaced at the table by seizing opportunities, to be prepared by ensuring they know what their messages are that they want to share and to dare to be different by using their unique, valuable voices to make a difference.
The learners at Rocky Crest High School were inspired by Ms. Gayle’s presentation and are now journeying down their own prosperous paths, determined to bring about change.