Let’s prioritise girls’ voices in decision-making processes (Photo: iStock)

Ahead of International Women’s Day, it is crucial to assess where we are as a nation in advancing basic human rights like health among girls and women.

Worldwide, girls and women aspire for fundamental rights and opportunities, including access to essential resources, empowerment, education, and equal opportunities.

However, in regions like Siaya, girls face significant challenges impeding their growth and development. For example, approximately 9500 adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in the area live with HIV, some having dropped out of school or become mothers due to sexual violence.

High HIV burden counties, including Siaya, witness a disproportionate impact on AGYW, with 70% of new HIV infections among 15- to 19-year-old girls. Contributing factors include sexual and gender-based violence, transgenerational sex, limited access to education, and economic opportunities. These adversities hinder personal development, perpetuate cycles of poverty, and reinforce inequality. Moreover, societal norms and cultural expectations further restrict opportunities, exacerbating vulnerabilities.

In response, programs like DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored, and Safe) offer support and opportunities. DREAMS focuses on empowering girls with education, life skills, mentorship, healthcare access, and economic opportunities, aiming to create a supportive environment conducive to their growth and well-being.

To further support girls' empowerment, it's crucial to expand the reach and impact of initiatives like DREAMS. This involves increasing investment in education, healthcare, and economic resources specifically tailored to address the needs of girls.

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Comprehensive sex education should be integrated into school curricula to equip girls with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about their bodies and relationships. Furthermore, community engagement and awareness campaigns play a vital role in challenging harmful gender norms and promoting gender equality.

Stakeholders like governments, CSOs, businesses, and communities have a crucial role to play in advancing girls' rights and well-being. Governments should prioritize policies that promote gender equality, invest in girls' education, and address the root causes of gender-based violence.

Legal frameworks should be strengthened to protect girls from exploitation and discrimination. Allocate sufficient resources and foster partnerships between stakeholders to leverage resources, expertise, and networks. This includes funding for education, healthcare, vocational training, and social support services tailored to meet the diverse needs of girls.

Prioritize girls' voices and agency in decision-making processes. Create platforms for girls to participate in discussions, advocate for their rights, and contribute to the design and implementation of programs that affect them.

 Governments and organizations should work towards ensuring universal access to menstrual hygiene products, education, and economic opportunities for all girls and women.

Importantly, policies and initiatives should be designed to promote gender equality, dismantle barriers, and create inclusive environments where girls and women can thrive.

 The author is DREAMS Technical Lead at the Centre for Health Solutions- CHS Kenya