By: Carolyne Sunte
My experience working with young adolescent girls has been great! In last four years I have witnessed a dramatic change. Previously alarmed by body changes and cultural practices, young girls would often drop out of school. Since enrolling in our program, they are sitting tall and are proud of their achievements.
Asante Africa Foundation’s Wezesha Vijana — Girls Advancement Program focuses on educating girls and their communities on health and safety, and has been featured in UNESCO’s Puberty Education & Menstrual Hygiene Publication. Our modules were designed to encourage girls to reflect on how financial skills relate to sexual and reproductive health, and empower them to act on those new healthy behaviors.
One module of our program focuses on female genital mutilation (FGM). It is clear from my work with our girls that they lack even the most basic information about the practice. The cultural implications of menstruation as a stage in a woman’s development may be used to take girls out of school — the idea being that if a girl is ready for motherhood, she is ready for marriage. With the onset of menstruation comes FGM, which typically occurs during puberty prior to a girl’s first sexual encounter. Our program intervenes by giving healthy alternatives and information regarding the consequences of FGM practices. This information is left with the girl and the community for them to consider alternatives and positive long-term health outcomes.
To help combat these challenges, we find mother-daughter education and community support works about 90% of the time. We have achieved our best results by leveraging local experts, education professionals, and community leaders to create a plan that everyone believes in. Locally, leaders in the community are empowered to examine their cultural beliefs and make changes that benefit their society.
What girls knows before entering our program is the progression of growth from daughter to mother — a woman is basically for procreation. Today she is attractive, a man’s favorite, and tomorrow she is a mother, a man’s property. Changing this deep seeded understanding is a challenge but knowledge is power.
The Wezesha Vijana program first focuses on providing girls with safe spaces to engage in these sensitive conversations. Along with the physical spaces, the program facilitates access to a female teacher who is able to answer questions. Children also observe socially acceptable male and female interactions in the school environment underscoring the lessons taught in our program. To further the positive male/female interactions, our program offers the same education for boys. Educating boys on these sensitive subjects creates allies for girls and goes a long way to change preconceived notions of females’ roles in local society.
With boys as allies and community engagement we are seeing some amazing changes. Our girls are opting not to undergo FGM. They are staying in school longer. Parents are waiting until much later to marry off their daughters. Girls have the know how to keep themselves safe and make healthy choices. For me the most rewarding outcome of our program is that our girls are empowered to become peer facilitators and are helping other girls.
Asante Africa has designed our program to meet the standards set out by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Learn more about how SDG’s are
working to empower women.
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