Creating the space for girls to build knowledge, skills and confidence

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Creating the space for girls to build knowledge, skills and confidence

Girls’ clubs are safe spaces that allow girls to talk about the issues that matter most to them – everything from menstrual health, to sexual and reproductive rights, to career and vocational opportunities.

As important as education is for girls, a well-rounded academic experience is about more than access to school. It’s also about girls feeling safe in schools that are equipped for their unique needs as they enter adolescence. And it’s about offering guidance to confront the harmful traditional practices, like early marriage, that contribute to high rates of drop-out and poorer health and life outcomes for girls.

Girls’ clubs around the world are offering students the opportunity to meet, learn, and stand up for their rights with confidence.

Myth-busting about menstruation in Uganda

children standing with arms in the arm

Rosena's clubs aim to reduce stigmas and educate girls.

Rosena is an educator, mentor, and girls’ club leader in Uganda. She’s been teaching for 15 years and has seen “several girls needlessly dropping out of school” because of a lack of access to accurate information about various aspects of sexual and reproductive health.

Rosena received specialized training from CFTC’s local partner, UCOBAC, and is now able to lead girls through conversations about sometimes difficult issues such as teen pregnancy, avoiding early marriage, and taking care of their personal and menstrual hygiene so, as Rosena says, “girls can fully participate in school and in the community.

The club aims at helping girls live a better and healthy life by having good mental, physical and social health,” she explains. In her role as health educator, she follows up with girls who find themselves in need of additional support, makes referrals to nearby health facilities where girls can access treatment for sexual and reproductive health-related challenges, and counsels parents on the value of girls’ education.

I advocate for the education of girls in the community … engage the parents, children and community members to teach them about the importance of education.

Rosena has noticed a drop in the teen pregnancy rate at her school, from a previous average of four students per year to the current average of just one. She says there’s also been a significant improvement in girls’ attendance as the myths about menstruation have been countered with accurate information provided through the clubs.

Most of the girls lacked knowledge about sexual and reproductive health [and believed in] many myths about menstruation, such as that menstruation is a bad omen, a curse, or a sign that you are ready for marriage,” she says. “Girls always missed school [during] their periods. A lot of learning time was being lost,” she adds.

Mary, a member of the girls’ empowerment and rights club at the school where Rosena teaches, believed many of these myths. She has learned how to make sanitary napkins for use during her period rather than using leaves, paper, or rags, which often result in urinary tract infections.

She says, “I’ve learned that menstruation is not a disease and it cannot stop me from attending classes. Before I would miss school whenever I would be on my periods. [The girls’ clubs] have disproved the myths and taboos around menstruation that stopped us from participating in school and at home.

Personally, I like myself, take care of myself, and walk with a lot of esteem and expectation. I have developed a positive attitude towards life. If others can succeed in life, then I can.

Enlisting opinion leaders to challenge harmful traditional practices in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, a shift is occurring in students’, teachers’ and parents’ beliefs about the necessity of traditional practices – long believed to be mandated by Sharia law – such as female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage, and the devaluing of girls’ education.

two girls in hijabs sit on chairs, listening to the teacher speak

Kewlet (right), like dozens of other girls, benefits immensely from girls' clubs and SRHR education

Trainings for religious leaders, teachers, PTA members, law enforcement personnel and others have helped raise awareness of the devastating consequences of these harmful traditional practices (HTPs) on girls’ and women’s lives.

A key has been for these leaders to realize that “the challenges of the education system are the traditional and cultural practices of the community. This is a really significant attitudinal and action-oriented change for schools,” says Abraham Abebe, project coordinator for CFTC’s local partner CHADET.

In the past, teachers did not consider their role to be one of advocating for girls’ rights in their communities. The trainings helped them see the bigger picture and how they can promote gender equality and women’s and girls’ well-being.

a girl smiles for the cameras

Kalkidan tells us, "The girls’ club is very useful for us. The club has a big role in the school and it elevates the girls’ morale."

Girls like Kewlet, age 14, are becoming confident advocates for girls’ rights. “There is a pressure from the family to get married early, their attitude towards girls’ education is very low. Getting an education is not harder for girls if they are given the same opportunities as boys. That is what I tell my parents and my friends’ parents,” she says.

The girls’ clubs are places where students are learning about gender equality, the harms of early marriage, and the grave risks of migrating illegally to the Gulf States, which is a problem of particular significance in this region of Ethiopia.

Kalkidan, age 14, has learned what practical steps girls can take if they learn about someone who might be about to drop out to be married. “They may not have consented but rather were made to do it by their parents. We talk about the harms involved and what we should do in the situation where early marriage is about to occur. If our parents are looking to give us away for an early marriage, we discuss how we should inform our parents and change their minds,” she says.

We celebrated March 8 [International Women’s Day] in a different way where girls prepared a drama on harmful traditional practices and the attitude of the community toward girls.

Head teacher Aminat explains that school officials and PTA members at her school have developed specific protocols to intervene in suspected cases of early marriage. “We started providing training for teachers and club members every Friday and we organized women’s neighbourhood associations and provided training for them. We created a way to get information about the situation for girls at home so that we can take action before it is too late. In this way we have saved four girls whose parents had decided to give them in marriage.”

Through the advocacy of educators and the engagement of community leaders, parents, and students, girls' clubs are helping to provide girls with a well-rounded education – one that counters the myths and misconceptions about women’s and girls’ rights and promises a healthier future and a fairer world for everyone.