“Everyone deserves the benefits of economic growth and social progress. Let us work together to ensure a life of security, dignity, and opportunity for all” – Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon
Since 1989, July 11th has been observed as World Population Day by the international community. World population day is a day to “focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues”. This year, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is urging all governments, businesses, and civil society to support and invest in teenage girls.
Around the world, teenage girls face countless challenges including a lack of access to education, early childhood marriage, and exploitation. Even more, barriers for teenage girls are exacerbated by factors such as poverty and isolation.
According to Girls Not Brides, an organization which connects those working to end child marriage, poverty is one of the main drivers of child marriage and girls from poor families are nearly twice as likely to marry before the age of 18. As a result, girls who marry young often do not receive the education and economic opportunities that help overcome some of these unimaginable obstacles. Through ending isolation, strengthening capacity, and increasing impacts through interaction, Girls Not Brides uses peer learning and knowledge exchange to work together to end child marriage and ensure girls can fulfill their full potential.
Recognizing the unique challenges that teenage girls face globally, the international community has come together in a variety of ways to address these pressing issues.
Focusing attention on initiatives which seek to empower teenage girls through sexual and reproductive health education, as well as employment and training opportunities, civil society has helped to provide access to services which help girls protect themselves.
Additionally, organizations such as Aura Freedom International focus on projects which seek to bring girls together to build networks of support within communities. Aura Freedom, founded in Toronto, Canada by Marissa Kokkoros, aims to advance the rights of women and girls and promote gender equality in both the developed and developing world. They advocate for systemic change and sustainability through solidarity and partnership and by nurturing a sense of global community and interdependence.
Recently, Aura Freedom has drawn specific attention to the challenges faced by Inuit women and children in Canada’s North. A Life of Dignity for Inuit Women and Children, is a project which seeks to introduce a safe house in Salluit, Nunavik. The safe house will be designed and run by the community itself and will provide security, protection, and education to women and children without forcing them to leave their communities. By introducing the safe house, the project will help to reduce feelings of isolation – keeping relationships at the centre of the solution.
As Marissa states, “This is not reinventing the wheel, it is implementing a simple structure that will provide care, protection and education to the women and children of the community. One may ask why such structures do not already exist in Northern Canada. We have seen them exist in some of the poorest countries in the world.”
By creating female-friendly spaces and fostering connections among girls, Aura Freedom believes that women and girls can build their own defenses which decrease their vulnerability to discrimination and violence.
Another organization working to reduce poverty by providing education for girls is, Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). SHOFCO combats gender inequality and extreme poverty in urban slums by linking tuition free schools to holistic social services for all – allowing the school to become a portal for large scale social change.
Through its work, SHOFCO has found that, “Educating a girl through at least the fifth grade results in later marriage, fewer children, and a reduction in HIV/AIDS. She is more likely to seek medical care, find employment, gain access to credit, and vote”. However, the organization goes beyond academics by providing healthcare, psychosocial support, and afterschool programs all free of charge while also having parents and relatives work for the school to ensure the entire community invested in girls’ education.
With this model, SHOFCO not only focuses on fostering social connections between girls, but recognizes the role that both genders play in creating sustainable solutions to gender inequality.
With the help of internationally recognized days such as World Population Day, there is now a growing global network of individuals, governments and organizations working to cultivate confidence and give girls the tools they need to become powerful agents of change in their communities.
“When you empower a woman, you empower her whole community. And when you educate a woman, you educate a generation.” – Aura Freedom International