“Girls should carry backpacks with school books, not babies on their back”

Malawi Schoolgirl Gya Blog
A young girl gets ready for classes at Mchuchu Primary School in Malawi (UNICEF / Chagara )

Barriers to education, Child labour, Child marriage, Girls' education, International Women's Day, Right to education

 Enock Nkulanga - a Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador and National Director of the African Children's Mission - writes about how much more needs to be done for girls and women to get gender equality.

I enrolled at Makerere University – one of the prestigious institutions of higher learning globally and the top one in Uganda – for a bachelor’s degree in development studies.

Makerere University was opened in 1922 as an institution that would only admit boys and men. In 1945 it began admitting both boys and girls – but only after it had spent 23 years operating as a single-sex school. This informs us deeply about our society. 

In the field of politics, Uganda still needs to make more progress towards accepting more women in leadership.

Rwanda is one African country that has made tremendous progress towards gender parity, with 64% of the lower chamber of parliament occupied by women. 

But other countries are still struggling. Men don’t seem to accept being led by a woman. That is a serious code that needs to be broken.

Women have been oppressed for so long and the effect on society has been the new wave of women empowerment agendas or civil society organisations advocating for the rights of women and girls.

One example of this is the Code Clubs for girls founded by Theirworld in several African countries.

The world has evolved so much. But one thing that still needs to radically change is how we look at and perceive girls and women. 

The more we live in a world where female rights aren’t respected, the more we’re going to witness the rise of movements for women defending their rights and pushing for equality and equity. 

For us to win together, we need to change the way we look at women and girls.
Girls don’t need to spend their entire lives fetching water. They deserve to carry knowledge and expertise.

Sierra Leone Schoolgirl Gya Blog

Girls take notes during a class in St. Joseph Secondary School in the city of Makeni, Sierra Leone (UNICEF / Bindra )

They don’t deserve to become mothers at an early age – 15 or below isn’t the right time for a girl to be married. She deserves to be in school and attain an education. That is the only way she can become a girl of power.

Girls shouldn’t be seen as destined to be mothers. They should be seen right from childhood as individuals destined to contribute towards transformative changes in society.

Girls shouldn’t be seen as a weaker sex. They have potential to drive big global changes. They’re intelligent and their commitment as well as consistency is beyond measure.

Girls shouldn’t be raped or defiled. They should be respected with dignity.

Liberia Schoolgirl Gya Blog

A girl claps during a sing-along in a class at Monrovia Demonstration School in Monrovia, Liberia (UNICEF / Grile)

Women and girls don’t deserve to carry only hoes in their hands. They deserve to carry pencils and pens. That is only how we can guarantee their bright future. 

Girls don’t need to be reduced to individuals who were created to carry babies on their backs. They have dreams just like boys. 

They deserve to carry backpacks with books to school. That is the right path to their purpose.

Girls have the capacity and intellectual muscle to become engineers, lawyers, graphics designers, coders and presidents.

They’re masters at multitasking. Multitasking is a rare but invaluable skill of great leaders. Women need to be in positions of leadership instead of being limited because of the way they are perceived.

It is girls and women who have the quality of integrating love, care and mindfulness into whatever they do. 

The best mindful leaders I have met are women. They’re careful not to hurt others through their selfishness. Women put others before self.

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