There can be hope for the girl child in terms of a bright future if we can tackle one of the greatest challenges of human existence i.e. the challenge of gender discrimination and bias. Only gender equality with total women empowerment can ensure a safe and secure future for the girl. When women are healthy, educated and free to take the opportunities of life, they prosper. When women prosper in life the family in turn flourishes and flourishing families with assertive women in charge ensure bright future for the baby girl.
Hope for the girl child: The necessity of strong and healthy women
Children who are the future wealth of a nation can flourish and thrive only when women in the family and the society are healthy, educated and independent in terms of making informed choices about their life. But the situation is far from ideal. Women are facing extreme hardships and marginalization because of gender based discrimination and bias. They are subjected to innumerable forms of violence and hardships. Majority of Women in large parts of the world are weak and are subjected to a life which is totally dependent on others. She faces domestic violence, falls in the trap of commercial sexual exploitation and faces the brunt of harmful traditional practices such as early marriage, premature pregnancy, female genital mutilation etc. The negative consequences of all this is faced by the baby girl. The practice of girl child feticide, infanticide, low enrollment into education, abuse and a life of misery and deprivation is what that is in offering for the girl child when women are weak and they are not able to take care of their children.
Hope for the girl child: Women empowerment and protective home environment
So any optimism for the girl child development and progress depends upon the total empowerment of women. Gender based equality can ensure the resurgence of strong and assertive women and in such circumstances we can see the real flourishing of the baby girl. Totally empowered women will share a relationship of equality with their partner. This in turn will lead to a positive reinforcement where the girl child will be adequately taken care in a secure and protective home environment. We can see that empowerment of women and the girl child is a mutually inclusive phenomenon where the development of women can lead to the development of the girl child and this in turn leads to further empowerment and development of women. In fact such positive cycles once generated will carry on in a continuous manner.
Hope for the girl child: Elimination of child labour
Child labour is one of the main reasons why children don’t go to school and waste their precious childhood. A girl child most often falls prey to child labour in her own home in the sense that she is put into a condition where she has look after all the household chores from a very young age. This curtails any chance of education. In many cases the baby girl is also forced to contribute to the primary means of earning for the family. Therefore either she ends up working as a child labour outside her home or participates in running the household and becomes a hidden child labour. Elimination of child labour often requires innovative income-generating ideas for parents who rely on their children for income. Economic development, training and loans for parents help give children the freedom to enjoy their childhoods and complete their education without exploitation. Elimination of child labour in either of the above mentioned forms is only possible if we can make the family unit viable economically and educate them further to keep their girl child in school.
Hope for the girl child: The Role of government and other structures of society in elimination of child labour
To make the family unit viable economically and give a future to the baby girl, social organizations, government bodies and other structures of the society should work at the ground level and provide facilities or avenues for gainful employment for the parents. This can also include credit and micro level finance facilities to start up small scale enterprises at the local level. These types of facilities to the parents can reduce child labour and ensure the completion of primary and secondary education of the girl child. Empowering parents, especially mothers, with income-generating skills and by providing them with loans for small businesses and market access for their products should be taken up in a massive scale so that we can prevent the young women labour. Education of the parents, the family and the society is also necessary where it has be clearly communicated that the baby girl should go to school and how her education is important for the family and society. Further parental education should also include communication against the repressive customs, traditions and mindset of the society which leads to the discrimination against the baby girl. There should be also some incentives planned to keep the girl child in the school.
Hope for the girl child: Supportive home environment is a must
A difficult and less supportive home environment is the prime reason why young women don’t go to school. High illiteracy rates among women and lower school attendance rates among young girls, especially at the secondary level, constitute discrimination against the girl child. Unreasonable workloads in the home, preferences for sons, a disregard for the rights of girls, early marriage, child labour, poverty, and the threat of violence keep too many young women from completing their education and trap them and their families in cycles of poverty. The other major hindrance against a good home environment for the girl child is the regressive gender beliefs, customs and traditions. In fact most boys, men and women know that young women are overloaded with work but little is done to help girls in any possible way or take a share in their workload. This is due to beliefs about gender and the role of a girl, and to the economic situation of the family, society and the nation as well. Here the need is to engage men and boys to create gender parity: encourage them to contribute to the work of household chores and to challenge violence and gender roles and traditions that are unjust and harmful.
Hope for the girl child: Strengthen the family unit to remove girl child labour
Young women empowerment and hope for the baby girl in terms of a better future is only possible if we strengthen the family unit and provide a secure, protective and caring home environment for the girl child. The family needs to be made economically viable. Once this happens then we can free the young women from the child labour that she is put into. Further through parental education and training we can eradicate regressive and repressive customs, traditions and mindset which make the society biased against the girl child. These parental education and training programmes should go into specifics and discus every aspect about the girl child development and empowerment including the nutritional and healthcare requirements, education, recreation and free time for the girl, sexual and reproductive rights and protection against sexual abuse. To keep the girl child in school incentives can be planned and actually the economic support to the family should be tied up with the criteria of girl education. The positive benefits from all these programmes can be seen as a change in the home environment where parents will provide a loving and secure environment for the girl child to grow and blossom. She would be taken care in terms of her nutritional and health requirements and she will be sent to school with a progressive mindset. Further this will foster a secure environment where the parents and elders will be vigilant against sexual or other kind of abuse against the girl including violence. The girl child will thus grow in a home environment which is supportive to her needs in every possible way.
Concrete steps that is required in providing a congenial home environment for young women includes empowering families economically to prevent worsening poverty and the harmful consequences of child labour and exploitation; providing adequate health services and abuse prevention systems to protect children; educating all girls, boys, men and women on rights of children, rights of women and human rights, as well as their roles and responsibilities in upholding these rights through preventing violence and discrimination and building gender equity in the home, community and nation.
Hope for the girl child: The perils of girl institutions
We have to be very clear on one fact that there is no substitute to a caring, secure and protective home environment which is vital for the girl child to grow and prosper. The young women institutions run by the state or other structures of the society can act as a temporary measure but they can never replace a home environment which gives the real hope for a girl child. These institutions cannot provide the humane touch which is very much required for the emotional and psychological growth of the child. However, even as temporary solutions, these institutions deserve attention as they are often rife with abuse and neglect. This is due to the poor education and harmful attitudes of staff that do not encourage girls in careers or education; many girls end up pregnant, married early or exploited in prostitution after leaving such institutions at the age of 15. They end up in situations which are no good for the individual self or the society. The staff of these institutions cannot replace parents as they end up neglecting their wards in one way or the other intentionally or unintentionally. It has been seen that girls who grow in these institutions never transform into mature and strong women who are self-empowered.
Hope for the girl child: Role of government in handling girl institutions
The government and other bodies in the society should ideally work with a goal to eliminate such institutions completely and integrate the orphaned back into the society. But for this even the society has to respond back by being liberal enough to provide a home for the orphaned. Meanwhile it would also serve well to make the staff and supportive system in the girl institutions to be gender sensitive. Any kind of discrimination and bias in these instructions should be dealt with strongly. On the other hand necessary training and education should be imparted to the staff in these organizations so that they can provide an environment which is at least conducive for positive growth of the girl child.
Therefore the work of the government is cut out in terms of improving the quality of these institutions while working to make them obsolete. To achieve this goal the government with the help of the other supportive structures of the society must initiate children into safe family environments as soon as possible, support families, build gender equality, and teach parents a rights-based approach to parenting and new parenting skills that will enable their girl children to be self-confident and successful. Further to bring real benefit for the girl child in terms of a positive future, the government should Support the formation of community based abuse prevention activities, including child protection committees, mentoring programmes, provision of day care centres for children of working parents, and psychological, legal and social support to families and orphaned children.
Hope for the girl child: Commercial exploitation of women
An economically defunct family unit becomes a breeding ground for all kind of wrong things happening against the young women and it cannot provide any future for girl child. The wrong things include the horror of commercial exploitation of women. When a home does not remain a secure, caring and protective environment for the girl child then we can see the havoc it can create on the life of the girl. Vested interests that exist in the society utilize this weakness to their advantage and push the girl child into sex trade and commercial exploitation through sex trade. If we want to stop this problem then the work should begin at the family level. We have to make the family unit viable economically and we need to further give training and education to the parents in parenting and issues related to girl child care. Commercial exploitation of young women either through sex trade or through any other kind of labour should be strictly prohibited and strong laws should be made against them.
Hope for the girl child: The choice of an alternative life
Young women who have fallen in the trap of commercial exploitation should be rescued and given a chance to start life afresh in terms of education, nutrition and healthcare. Women who are already into sex trade can be persuaded back to a normal life if we can provide them a viable alternative which is economically attractive and which brings them back to a life of dignity in the society. Any half measures at this level won’t work and they won’t provide any hope for girl child. Here what we need to understand is the fact that prostitution of girls sexually exploits girls and traps them in cycles of poverty and abuse. Fundamentally, the basis of this exploitation is the unequal power and economic balance between a girl child and a male adult. Individuals, social organizations and government should work with women and children in the sex trade to empower them with alternative income choices, raise awareness of the harms of the sex trade and educate their families and communities to protect and prevent children from entering and repeating the same cycle.
Hope for the girl child: The needs of the baby girl
The needs of the baby girl include the needs of the physical, emotional, psychological and intellectual realms. The girl child needs a home environment which is caring and which provides love to her. It should be an environment which is secure and protective. Her physical needs are related to adequate nutrition and healthcare. Further time for recreation and play develops her physically and education makes her ready for a bright tomorrow. Whenever the girl child has been asked about her needs, she has expressed her desire for more committed teachers, clean water, parental involvement in her education, and treatment with the same respect as boys in school. In fact what a young woman is asking for is a life of equality and dignity where she gets equal opportunity to pursue her goals and dreams in life. The government and the other supportive bodies of the society should take up the issue of adequately funding initiatives to ensure girl child rights; improving school curricula, providing incentives to girls’ education and ensuring free, compulsory and quality inclusive education for all children. To provide a bright future for girl child the governments should formulate policies based on the Millennium Development Goals, the Dakar Framework for Action and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative goals of gender parity in primary and secondary education.
Hope for the girl child: The Apathy of the state
The apathy of the state can be seen in actions that it has taken for girl child empowerment. Most of the times there is huge gap between the international treaties and protocols that has been agreed upon and the actual ground implementation of these treaties and protocols for young women empowerment. It has been seen that most of the times laws and policies are formulated without checking the ground realities. We need to understand the fact that unless we have a strong framework for action at the grass root levels, no laws and policies or other measures can bring hope for girl child. The state should involve the people to implement its laws and policies. It needs to initiate grass root campaigns with other structures and bodies of the society for making the girl child empowerment to succeed. Let me throw some more light on the appalling ground situation. Over the last 10 years, 189 countries have adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with strong recommendations to improve the status of the girl child. The Millennium Development Goals have again focused the world attention on the girl and the necessity of gender equity for the alleviation of poverty. Yet today, while the international community has seen great progress, governments are still struggling to fulfill their commitments. In order to protect the rights of girls and provide hope for girl child, governments must uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child, gender inequity must be addressed, and all people must be sensitised to children and women rights. Moreover Government should work with social organisations and commit to adequately recording social statistical data by separating records of women and girls, men and boys, and create indicators and monitoring systems to track the status of the girl child.
Hope for the girl child: Framework for action at the state and international level against gender inequality
Framework for action at the state and international level against gender inequality must begin by the member states of the United Nations upholding international treaties and enforcing laws, especially for the prevention of gender-based violence. In this regard it is particularly important for all member states to enforce the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols, with funding and accountability mechanisms. The member states should also ensure that all citizens understand the provisions of such international conventions. Further, eradication of gender inequality and empowerment of the women and girl child is only possible through a framework for action which involves the grass root structures of the society which includes the family and the community. The approach should be bottom up and not top bottom. The needs and issues should be identified at the local level and then through the local bodies the state and the international community should chip in resources as per the broad policy frameworks agreed upon. Only reaching the needy directly can help solve the problem and bring some optimism for the future of the girl child. Action should be to empower people at the ground level through various methods including training and education. Throwing bread crumbs here and there would not serve the purpose at all.
Hope for the girl child: Uphold child rights
The role of the state, social organizations and other progressive structures of the society becomes very important in upholding the rights of the child through education and training as well through strict enforcement of laws and policies at the ground level. The girl child should have the basic right to live a life of equality and dignity in all possible ways. In this regard the right to nutrition, healthcare and education in a caring, protective and secure environment is one of the fundamental rights that should be available to all children including the baby girl. Further to uphold the girl child rights and bring hope for girl, massive gender sensitization campaigns should be initiated at every level of the society especially at the grass root levels. The need is to eradicate the regressive customs, traditions and beliefs from the society and inject a new mindset which is progressive, just and which is based on the principles of gender equality.
Hope for the girl child: Track the status of the baby girl development
Just planning and implementing the laws and policies is not going to bring us the necessary results in terms of real hope for girl child. It is also necessary for us to track the status of the girl child empowerment programmes at various levels to understand the gaps that exist between the actual plans and the ground level results that have been achieved. In this regard the government should collaborate with social organizations and other structures in the society to bring out concrete data which can show the results of young women empowerment programmes in a transparent way. If we don’t initiate such measures then all the precious resources that go into these programmes will remain unaccounted and this will create a breeding ground for corruption and other malpractices. More importantly tracking the status of the girl child and girl empowerment programmes will give a real picture of the impact of policies and programmes pursued by the government towards creating a society which is just and gender neutral. Further the action required by the governments also includes documenting the statistics of women and girl child abuses and making that information popularly known.
Hope for the girl child: The work that is multidimensional
The work towards young women empowerment is multidimensional in nature. It involves work at the ground level at the very basic unit of the society that is the family. From the family then it moves upward to encompass the locality, the region, the society, the nation and the international community. Unless all these levels are integrated we would not be able to achieve genuine and true results. The girl child empowerment work involves spreading the doctrine of gender equality through education and training of the family and the society. It also involves activities towards eradicating the regressive customs, traditions and beliefs in the society which acts as the breeding ground for gender based discrimination and bias. The work also involves in taking up action plans in terms of providing facilities and opportunities for nutrition, healthcare, education and employment for women and the girl child. The work towards gender equality will not be complete unless measures are taken up for stopping all kind of abuse and violence against women and the girl child. This has to be strongly dealt within the framework of stringent laws and regulations and their enforcement. More than formulating new laws it is necessary to enforce the existing laws so that crimes against humanity like girl child feticide, infanticide, sexual abuse, rape and violence can be rooted out from the society. This needs a twin approach. The basic and most fundamental approach would be to prevent the crime through gender sensitization. This can be achieved through education and training. Meanwhile the second approach should focus on dealing stringently with the perpetuator of a crime. As I said before, the work towards gender equality and hope for the girl child is multidimensional and it needs the active involvement of the society at every level for success.
Finally once again let me reemphasize the fact that education of young women is one of the most effective methods of girl child empowerment as well as national growth and development. Young women education helps in protecting girls from discrimination and violence, helps in strengthening the family as a unit and helps in eradicating poverty, corruption and malpractices from the society.