It is that time of the year again, International Day of the Girl!
Celebrated annually on 11th October, this day is to advocate for girls’ rights, highlight their potential and challenges they may face, but also to find ways to support them to realise their ambitions.
“I used to think being a girl is all about growing up, being in the kitchen and getting married. Now, I know that that is not the case. When girls are supported to get an education, they will become doctors, engineers, pilots… I want to become a nurse,” Stella, a Senior 4 learner at Juba Girls’ Secondary School.
On this International Day of the Girl, Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS) stresses that it is time for stakeholders to step up, to ensure realisation of this year’s theme – “Invest in girls’ rights: our leadership and wellbeing”. This is not just a statement for today, but an everyday commitment to ensure girls are supported to live up to their full potential.
Girls with disabilities have the RIGHT to an education!
In Juba Day Secondary School, we meet Victoria. It is a sunny day; the wind blows hot air into the classroom where Victoria is seated. The class is packed to the brim with learners. Victoria listens attentively as the teacher makes the concluding remarks of his lesson. When the bell rings for break-time, she remains seated at her desk, waiting for her friend as the other students leave the classroom. She finds it difficult to leave the classroom alone. Victoria is a learner with visual impairment, but this has not stopped her from pursuing her dream of becoming a journalist.
“I want to become a journalist. I like being up to date with things happening around me and in the world. When I am a journalist, I will be informed, but also keep others informed with accurate information. I want to work on the radio,” Victoria says.
Girls with disabilities like Victoria often face compounded challenges in getting an education due to the dual biases of gender and disability. “Some students do not understand what bullying is. They can say demeaning things to me, and think it is ok. The school facilities are not the best, like the way to the classroom and the general environment of the school compound, (no ramps) but I try my best,” Victoria adds as she tries to put a braille paper into a machine. Victoria confirms that she receives support from the school, and some friends. “When I am in the class, I cannot write notes, but after a lesson is complete, I ask a friend to read for me the notes and I type. The school has given me a machine which I can use, the other one is small, and I can carry it home with me,” she tells us.
Victoria believes girls deserve an equal opportunity in becoming leaders “For me, I think girls should be given the opportunity to participate. Girls should not be told that they need to be older to be able to speak out about issues that affect them, even in meeting (policy forums), there should be representatives of the girls so that they are not left out,” Victoria comments.
Recognize, celebrate and support girls’ LEADERSHIP!
The GESS Mentoring and Book Clubs, which are running in schools across the country, are helping girls build on their confidence and wellbeing. “In the magazine we read in our mentoring club, there is a woman (Ngozi Okonjo Iweala) who is leading a big organisation (World Trade Organisation), when I read her story, I felt that I can also become like her. I also used to be shy to express myself but since I joined the club, I can now speak freely. Recently I recited a poem and became the third best in the school. My elder sister was really surprised when I showed her the award I won,” Stella adds with a smile on her face. Stella is a member of the vibrant Mentoring Club at Juba Girls’ Secondary School.
Apart from building girls’ confidence, the Mentoring Clubs and Book Clubs are providing safe spaces for learners with and without disabilities to share their challenges, speak out on issues they may not otherwise have the opportunity to discuss, and, importantly, support each other. “You see, when we come together in our groups, we feel like we are brothers and sisters, and we are all in the group to listen to each other, discuss and get solutions for our problems. We learn lessons from the articles in the book. After the club meetings, you feel like someone listened to you,” Stella concludes.
For every additional year of secondary education a girl receives, her potential income increases by about 10-20% (UNICEF, 2023). This translates into greater economic productivity, reduced poverty rates, and improved overall WELLBEING.
“I have received cash transfers from GESS twice. When I heard that there is support to schoolgirls, I enrolled, and since then I have not left school. I always look forward to the cash transfers because that is the money I use to pay (school) fees,” Sunday Gatluak.
Sunday Gatluak is in her second year of secondary education. She lives with her mother and siblings in the Protection of Civilian (PoC) Site for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Juba. She lives in a makeshift structure after being displaced from her home state of Unity due to conflict.
Sunday is confident that the support she receives from GESS, in the form of the cash transfer, will help her to complete her secondary education. “What can make girls drop out of school is lack of money. Also, for parents to know that girls are not just meant to bring wealth to the family in terms of bride price. If we study and complete education, we can support our families even better. Girls need support from parents, and community to be able to complete school,” Sunday adds.
“Invest in Girls’ Rights: Our Leadership, Our Well-being”
Stella is a student at Juba Girls’ Secondary School- the only girls’ secondary school in the capital, Juba. Stella’s words are representative of many schoolgirls across South Sudan. “When a girl is not limited by society, she can achieve so much. I am a prefect in the school. Even if I was in mixed school (mixed sex school), I would still compete with the boys to be a prefect because I know that girls can also be leaders,” Stella explains confidently and with a smile. Girls who are enrolled in school across South Sudan are becoming more confident, and focused to achieve their dreams, and Stella is just one example!
In line with this years’ theme of the International Day of the Girl, “Invest in girls’ rights; our leadership and wellbeing,” GESS calls upon all stakeholders to ensure, girls’ rights, leadership opportunities, and wellbeing is not a one-day initiative, but a national priority.
We urge all stakeholders to continue supporting girls’ education. Girls form part of the human capital and can contribute to the growth and development of the country if meaningful investment is made towards their rights, leadership skills, and wellbeing!Tags: Cash Transfers, Development, Disability Inclusion, education, EducationCannotWait, EU, FCDO, GESS, girls' education, Global Affairs Canada, IDG23, International Day of the Girl, South Sudan, UKaid, USAID