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International Day of the Girl Child: A Call for Improving the Basics

At U-Report Sierra Leone, a platform that engages young people for positive social change via SMS/TEXT messages, over 11,000 youth were asked what they envision will bring change for the girl child in 2030. The responses were nothing short of inspiring with many citing ‘education’ and the overt belief that when a girl is educated she has the potential to indeed become the ‘next president’ of our small nation. Many of these responses came from young men.

This International day of the girl child I ask us to be revolutionary in our approach to breaking the cycle of limited opportunities for young girls globally and especially in my home country, Sierra Leone. The picture isn’t pretty, the Ebola Outbreak only compounded existing social, political and economic barriers for the girl child. Let’s take a step back, a post-war country with severely low literacy rates, weak health infrastructures that incubate high maternal mortality rates, a frail education system that sustains a low retention rate for young girls – poverty. Without reiterating the statistics, the picture is pretty grim, in fact down right disappointing. Yet here is the kicker, when our colleague worked at the National Stadium that housed recently displaced victims due to torrential floods in the country, he met a girl who was reading at the ‘make shift’ school in the stadium. Her smile wide, her attitude uncannily positive and when he asked her what she wanted to be in the future. Her response was assured  " when i am big i want to be president". Here is a young girl who chooses to see possibility within a system that by default has already failed her.

Sierra Leone has had a decade of good economic growth with the proportion of people living in (income) poverty decreasing from 66 percent to 53 percent between 2003 and 2011. We can take pride in our progress. Yet, we did meet any of the MDG in 2015. What we do have however, is unshaking resilience as demonstrated by that young girl living at the make shift home for displaced people at the National Stadium. Here is the thing, government must invest in what may not be immediately visible but will yield the highest reward – its people. Its unshakably resilient people.

So I reiterate, this year I ask us to be revolutionary in our approach to developing the girl child, and in Sierra Leone we must start by truly listening to the voices of young people. Ebola cannot serve as the only scapegoat for the increase in social issues like high teenage pregnancy, rise in sexual violence and maternal mortality ratios that are causing a flurry of worry. We know that we must  really focus by investing in building and strengthening the basics – quality education and quality health care service provision. We need to be able to meet the young girls on the bridge, those who say they want to become president because they believe they can. We need to meet them by constructing social structures that will enable them to meet their dreams; we need to do it NOW.

Envisioning a world for the Girl Child in 2030 is half the battle, working towards enabling those dreams requires a revolutionary approach by heavily investing in strengthening the basics, quality education and quality health care.

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