Having worked with girls and young women all over the world, their enthusiasm for education is infectious. Yet the reasons that stop girls from going to school are hard-hitting and heartbreaking.
I’ve been a Girl Guide leader for 20 years and I’ve run Girl Guiding sessions around the world. No matter where girls come from, factors such as poverty, gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, lack of body confidence, online bullying and access to menstrual hygiene products, are cited as reasons that stop them from gaining a safe education.
Sandrine lives in a rural community in Rwanda. As she was walking home from school, she was raped. Soon after she discovered she was pregnant. Sandrine’s parents knew the perpetrator’s family and they begged for his release.
“They told me they’d support me while I was at school, as well as after the baby was born,” says Sandrine. “My family and I agreed, as we needed the financial support. The support I’d been promised soon stopped and I never heard from him or his family again. I was eventually forced to drop out of school.”
Sadly, Sandrine’s story is not uncommon.
According to a recent U-Report poll, over a quarter of girls surveyed said they had faced some kind of danger on the way to school, 20% said the biggest threat to safe study was sexual harassment at school, while 10% said violence at home hindered their ability to gain a safe education.
These statistics are damning. No matter where you live in the world, girls deserve access to a safe, quality education. They deserve to enjoy a life where they can learn about the world, enjoy the opportunity to make new friends and, eventually, get the job they deserve, with the hope of achieving a better future.
As World Board Chair of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts(WAGGGS) and a practising lawyer, I want to do everything in my power to ensure every girl and any girl can access a safe education.
The Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting Movement supports 10 million girls across 150 countries and our unique non-formal education approach offers opportunities for girls and young women to develop confidence, leadership and skills for life.
We educate girls in town halls, refugee camps and remote villages about violence, health, climate change and gender equality, to inspire them to speak out and better prepare them to go to school so they can realise their full potential.
Where possible, we support girls to go back to school and in the case of Sandrine, we provide a safe space for her to open up about her life, as well as learn vocational skills so she can continue learning and support her daughter.
Our Girl Guides and Girl Scouts are a testament to the positive impact a safe space to learn can have on a girl - and we want to continue to grow our movement so we can reach as many girls as possible.
At our 36th World Conference, we welcomed four new countries to our Movement, and two associate countries became full members including the Scouts of Syria. Under the ever-present realities of war, dedicated volunteers are working tirelessly to run Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting activities across the country, including in Damascus, Hama, Latakia and Aleppo. Over 1,000 girls and young women have been given a sense of normality and a safe space for them to play and make friends - and it’s having a huge impact.
“The war has taken its toll on my country, however, I am thankful it hasn’t affected me in-person,” says Sham, a 22-year-old Girl Scout. “Instead, it’s made me stronger and helped me realise what I want to do in life. It’s made me understand the importance of education, which is now my priority.”
Education is at the heart of everything WAGGGS does and we want to enable girls and young women, such as Sham and Sandrine, to reach their full potential so they can well and truly make their mark on the world.
That’s why this International Day of the Girl, WAGGGS calling for 12 years of free, safe, quality education for every girl around the world.
After all, it’s about time education for every girl and any girl became a reality.
For more information, visit www.wagggs.org/teamgirl