/ 26 April 2005

Girl Lerne Gri Girl K Girl learner takes space

Girls need education to be able to participate fully in society. This was the message that came out of the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

A significant step in the right direction taken by African leaders was the creation of the Girls Education Movement (Gem), launched first in Uganda in 2001 and this year in South Africa. With the support of the United Nations Childrens Fund (Unicef), NGOs and the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, Gem is being driven by the Department of Education (DoE). The launch in March saw Parliament transformed into an all-girl affair, and activities like this that give space for the voices of girls to be heard continue to grow.

The South African Girl Child Alliance (Sagca) is one of the

organisations involved in the Gem movement, working towards empowering girl-children in South Africa.

Sagca cooperates with existing structures in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo and targets girls between 12 and 16 years of age. It runs projects that aim to eliminate discrimination and violence against girls.

Says Nomtuse Mbere of Sagca, ‘The situation analysis done on the girl-child compared to the boy-child demonstrated clearly that gender-conditioning is the root cause of the disparities to which girl-children are subjected at home. This is extended to the school environment.”

Girls are usually the first to drop out of school should the family face financial and other difficulties, Mbere says. To ensure orphaned girls remain in school, Sagca established scholarships in Mpumalanga for girls up to Grade 12.

HIV/Aids and gender-based violence ‘are a consequence of the lack of control girls have over their bodies” and are major threats to gender equity and equality, Mbere says, adding: ‘Gender-based violence is the ultimate illustration of the unequal power relations between men and women.”

The DoE’s policy on the abuse of children by educators is insufficient to address the problem of girls dropping out of school owing to sexual violence, says Mbere. Taking effective action against abusive educators involves a long process, and the affected girl is often exposed to further victimisation.

Girls involved with Women’sNet — an organisation in partnership with Sagca — have themselves communicated the message clearly: they have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. In a radio-play about rape, the girls state: ‘Virginity testing, genital mutilation, having sex with a woman without her consent: that is violating a girls’ body. Let us not forget, a girl has a right for her body not to be violated.”

And here’s more food for thought from the Sagca girls: ‘Why is it that when a girl wears a short skirt, men feel it is not right and that she is asking to be raped?”