The potential that lies within young girls in our communities cannot be denied. They have proven to be a source of creativity, energy and ideas that can drive real change when their voices are uplifted, and their rights and protections guaranteed by society. Honouring these rights means that girls have equal access to education, proper nutrition and health services while protecting them from Gender-Based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), unintended pregnancies and child marriage.
In Kenya, there is need for concerted efforts to overcome the obstacles on girls' paths. There is need for collaboration by State and non-State actors to eliminate FGM. Despite the declining rates of FGM in the country, from 37.6 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 in 1998 to 21 per cent in 2014, more must be done in order to achieve President Uhuru Kenyatta’s vision of ending FGM by 2022. The practice causes both short-term and long-term complications and is a violation of human rights. It is our responsibility as duty bearers and community members to safeguard the dignity and integrity of girls, ensuring that they can make decisions over their bodies and their lives in a safe environment that allows them to shape the world they want to live in.
History has shown that women and girls are negatively affected at a disproportionately higher rate by outbreaks of conflict and epidemics, and the Covid-19 is no different. Adolescent girls in Kenya are grappling with disruption in their education that has left them bearing an undue burden of domestic work as well as compromised access to sexual and reproductive health services including access to menstrual hygiene supplies.
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In response to these conditions, the government has made tremendous strides to ensure that the rights of girls are upheld as enshrined in the Constitution and in line with the personal commitment of President Kenyatta. The Ministry of Public Service and Gender has intensified engagement with duty bearers and rights holders at national, county and community levels to advance the implementation of relevant national policies as well as provide a platform to amplify the voices of our girls.
The government has continued to collaborate with partners’ in the implementation of the Presidential Acceleration Plan to end FGM by 2022 as a centerpiece of efforts to protect the girl child. The multi-sectoral and inter-governmental collaboration framework that has been deployed to this agenda will be the model for the promotion of the optimal development of the girl child in our society.
Innovation and technology
UNFPA works hand in hand with relevant government agencies and civil society organisations to promote programme implementation as well as support vulnerable girls with critical commodities like dignity kits.
Our commitment to upholding girls’ rights and equality can make a profound impact on girls’ power to achieve self-determination. The government, through its commitments made at the Nairobi Summit to mark the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, is working to put in place and implement supportive policies, laws, systems and services that will safeguard the wellbeing of young girls. This includes deploying innovation and technology to ensure adolescents and youth attain the highest possible standard of health.
Leadership must be provided for the difficult conversations, that will lead to elimination of teenage pregnancies, new adolescent and youth HIV and Aids infections and harmful practices such as child marriages while at the same time ensuring universal access to friendly quality reproductive health services and information to the youth and adolescents by 2030.
These efforts will require support at all levels, including from the family and community leaders, who hold the power to challenge norms and values that promote gender inequality.
Men and boys also have a role to play in denouncing harmful notions of masculinity and in promoting equal gender relations at home, in schools and other social spaces where the rights of girls might be threatened.
The theme of the International Day of the Girl Child 2020 is “My Voice, Our Equal Future.” Today, more girls are willing to take a seat at the table to engage in conversations and participate in decision-making about their bodies, their lives, and their world.
-Shebesh is the Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Public Service. Dr Ademola is the UNFPA Representative in Kenya