By Faustina Fynn-Nyame, Executive Director, Africa, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation
The year was 1995, the location, Beijing, China.
Back then, many of us did not quite comprehend how the deliberations and commitments made at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women would impact the future of the girl-child and women across the globe.
Adopted by 189 countries, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action presented a significant turning point for the global agenda for gender equality, identifying 12 strategic areas and actions aimed at removing all the obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making.
26 years after these commitments were made, there has been significant progress, but we are still a long way from removing all obstacles to gender equality and the advancement and empowerment of women and girls.
A 2020 analytical review of achievements and challenges in the 12 areas of the Beijing Platform for Action conducted by UN Women for the East and Southern Africa Region cited persistent gender gaps in education and training, negative cultural and entrenched patriarchal social norms, dwindling political will to adopt sustained campaigns for the transformation of these negative social norms, and inadequate resources to implement them as some of the present-day obstacles to delivering on these commitments.
Across Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso, nearly half of the adolescent girls are married before 18, two-thirds do not attain secondary education, one quarter have a child by 18, and young working women continue to earn less than men. These outcomes are worsened by a resistance to include comprehensive sexuality education in school curricula, denying both boys and girls the information and skills to safely manage their sexuality to avoid early sex debut and unwanted pregnancies.
This is happening against a backdrop of inadequate investment in the health sector, with many countries heavily relying on foreign assistance and donor grants further limiting quality and equitable access to (reproductive) health and related social services.
We will continue to fail women and girls if we fail to eliminate these obstacles and barriers.
The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) is committed to transforming the life of the African girl. Informed by CIFF’s Africa Strategy, our aim is to ensure that girls achieve their aspirations and rights. Our work is not done until African girls have the health, economic opportunity, and the agency to contribute to a thriving and self-determined Africa.
This complex challenge calls for bold, catalytic, transformative, and locally driven sustainable solutions, with an explicit equity focus that leaves no girl behind. This will involve tailoring interventions to reach and improve outcomes for girls in marginalized communities and doing things differently. Business as usual will not suffice, but rather a radical change in how we view the problem and its solutions.
Our promise to the African girl is to build her capabilities by addressing norms and barriers to staying in school and learning, and building life skills and agency, to prepare her for the future by supporting secondary education and vocational pathways, universal access to sexual reproductive health (SRH), and economic empowerment by addressing gender gaps in key sectors.
For this to happen, we have made a commitment to put the adolescent girl at the center of our design process starting with her needs and aspirations, and address this holistically to maximize impact. We realize that we can only do this sustainably by working through local organizations and leaders, building capacity, strengthening networks and empowering the voices of our partners while leveraging existing platforms, partnering with government to scale our investments, and putting sustainability at the front and center of our strategic approach.
To deliver on this promise and commitment calls for transformational opportunities to scale what we and our partners know works, testing new models where evidence is lacking, and providing catalytic funding to transform large scale programs and initiatives.
26 years on, the African Girl still needs all our support to become the woman of her dreams. To live in a world where she can actively participate in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural, and political decision-making. And to live in the world we promised her in September of 1995 in Beijing.
“Only when girls, including those most-at-risk, have equal rights, opportunities and agency to achieve their full potential can we have resilient, prosperous and just societies.’’
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This article is a part of PSI’s ICFP 2022 Impact Magazine. Explore the magazine here.