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On Friday October 11, the second annual International Day of the Girl Child was celebrated.
The day is endorsed by the United Nations and member countries have marked it, with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders commemorating it on Monday October 14.
David Throp, Country Director for Plan International in Ethiopia, sat with Capital’s Aderajew Asfaw to discuss the “Because I am a Girl” campaign, and his organization’s contribution in pushing for the celebration of the day internationally, as well as other projects and prospects of the organization.
Capital: Do tell us what “Because I am a Girl” campaign is all about?
David Throp: Plan, not only in Ethiopia but all over the world, has launched its campaign called, “Because I am a Girl” to work with girls and alongside girls in order to make society, government, and other stakeholders aware of the needs of girls and to attract attention to the situation of girls, as girls makeup half of the world’s population.
The phrase actually came from a girl in some country where Plan operates.
The girl, who lived in a poor community, was asked why she isn’t going to school and she replied “‘because I am a girl” which later became the name of the campaign.
The idea is that, because she is a girl, she is discriminated against on issues surrounding education, health, and protection from sexual abuse and violence.
There has been a lot of research that shows empowering and educating girls that bring enormous benefits for the society, not only for the girls but also for men.
Studies show that, for every amount you invest in a girl’s education, there is a huge return in terms of the economic production of the country. There are a lot of arguments about why it is important to invest on girls.
The point is that we are all human beings, girls and boys are human beings, men and women are human beings. In a practical way, if we engage girls in different things, if we listen to their voices, if we can make them more important participants in development circumstances, it can actually have huge practical benefits for the whole society in terms of health, economic production, and so on. So, that’s broadly what the campaign is about.
Capital: What does October 11 represent for Plan?
Throp: October 11 is probably one of the biggest days because this is not the only campaign that Plan has but the most high profile and highest prioritized campaign at the moment and at least for the next couple of weeks. And we at Plan are one of the organizations that are instrumental in the creation of this day, the ‘International Day of the Girl Child’.
The day is endorsed by the UN and Plan as one of the organizations that was lobbying the politicians and UN officials to actually create the day. The International Day of the Girl Child is the day we launch the report of girls. There’s a nice fit there, in terms of external communication- messaging, communicating, public campaigning and public awareness.
In different countries, there will be a lot of activities taking place. We are hoping to participate with different ministries here in Ethiopia on the different events.
The idea is to celebrate girls, talk about the potential of girls, also to raise awareness about the circumstances of girls in order to improve those circumstances. It is a good opportunity for us to launch our report.
It is an official UN day and Ethiopia, as a member state, celebrates the day. We are just pleased that the government is also thinking about girls. It is very clear about what it wants to do. It understands general equalities. We really are pleased that the government has that focus and we just want to be supportive of that effort.
Capital: What is the report you are going to launch alongside the celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child?
Throp: Each year, Plan produces a report on a slightly different theme. The theme this year is about disasters. There is a report here which is under the heading of “Because I am a Girl” and the title is “In Double Jeopardy: Adolescent Girls in Disasters”.
This is where we are referring to the fact that when there is a disaster, people suffer. But in addition to that, there are particular negative effects and particular challenges that girls face. So, this is the idea of double jeopardy – on the one hand confronting a disaster and an emergency and on the other hand I am a girl, and I have got two challenges to deal with.
The report we launched this week is based on Plan’s own research and contains evidence about Ethiopia, but not specific to Ethiopia as it involves many other countries around the world as well, and it really describes the effects that disasters can have on girls and women, as opposed to boys and men. I think it comes out with a fairly strong criticism, that as development actors, as humanitarian actors, say it is the government or donors, or NGOs themselves, we are not really doing enough about this.
Plan is really enforcing and putting out a strong message on some of these things that the people have been aware of. But, we are really asking the question of what we are going to do about it.
There are huge efforts around the world to deal with and prepare for disasters, to deal with the impacts of disasters, to get through situations of disasters, to increase peoples’ resistance, and to make them resilient in disasters, all of these things which are working here in Ethiopia and in other countries, but, though we know we face problems, we haven’t yet come up with any concrete practical approaches and systems to address it.
Capital: What is the global message the report portrays?
Throp: The report lays out a call to action for governments, NGOs, and communities, if we want to cope better with disasters, work well with people and communities so that the impacts can be reduced and people are less affected, then we need to think more on how we understand and deal with issues. If we do that, it is not for the benefit of women, but it’s for the benefit of the entire community.
Capital: What would you say are the challenges that put Ethiopian girls and women in double jeopardy?
Throp: Ethiopia faces different types of disasters, in some parts of the country we have flooding, for example, but the most common one that Ethiopia is known for is generally drought, food insecurity and hunger, and actually Ethiopia is making huge improvement in this regard.
However to be honest it is still a problem. So, one of the impacts of that is when people start to suffer and food is scarce, and they are facing hunger, people adopt coping strategies. The particular strategy we have seen is that the girl is taken out of school. Because of the family’s need for more income, the mother needs to go to work, and somebody needs to looks after the baby, so the girl ends up dropping out of school. We see that there is less cultural importance placed on girl’s education, if families have to make a choice. So, we need to try to create some incentives to encourage girls to stay in school.
These could be economic incentives; these can be helping with school uniforms and other materials, or it may be the school itself.
It is not just the students but also for the teachers themselves, life becomes very difficult and we may see the teachers regularly in the school doing the best they can for the children. So by working with the education system and by working with the communities and trying to raise awareness about the importance of keeping the girl in school because we are jeopardizing her future if we take her out of school, we would hope the end result to be, that more girls can remain in school even when there is a drought.
Another example is early marriage: one coping strategy when income is short and when hunger is eminent and when families don’t know what to do. I think there is evidence, not necessarily in Ethiopia but from around the world. This is the time when you see more child marriages because one of the coping strategies for the family is marrying thirteen-year-old girl to somebody else because that actually may be perceived as economically beneficial because they no longer have to take care of the girl. They would feel that the girl is married and can be looked after by someone else and somehow we have managed to alleviate the problem. I think this is commonly observed in Ethiopia and in other places.
Capital: Does Plan always involve boys and men in its efforts to address issues of girls and women?
Throp: The previous annual report actually focused on boys. The title of the report was “Because I am a Girl” but the heading was “What about Boys?” and it talked about the fact that these inequalities and differences are a responsibility for all of us. Men and boys can actually be part of the solution to the problems facing girls and they may be able to see at some point that it is actually in their own self-interest. If I am the brother, it may be in my own self-interest that my sister has an opportunity to get an education equal to what I can get. As a father it’s in my own interest that my son and my daughter have the same kind of opportunities because that is going to improve my own situation, the prospects for my own community and improve my own income prospects.
You can identify particular issues related to girls; you can also identify issues related to boys. But generally, to address them, you got to work with everybody. That is the approach.
Capital: What other areas is Plan International working on?
Throp: We work in four main areas. One is around education; again it is not exclusive to girls. We try to improve the quality of primary education for children generally in Ethiopia. But within that we do recognize there are some particular challenges for girls.
The second area is child survival. It involves some health works and water and sanitation, supporting the government in the better provision of health services.
The third area is around some of the types of violence that children are subject to. Again, this is not exclusive to girls. Boys are sexually abused but generally it is fair to say that these are issues that affect girls and young women to a greater extent than young men because at the end of the day it is about power and certain people have the ability in life to abuse other people.
We work on issues of female genital mutilation, and punishments in school that discourage children from going to school.
Then the fourth area is concerning disaster and humanitarian work. To some extent it is related to the same issues that I have been describing. Education is an issue to work on and in the context of a disaster there are some other things you need to think about related to education and the same for health, water and environment. So we are kind of working on some of the same issues. We have some different projects and different approaches when we are looking at disasters and the need to be better prepared.
Capital: The very mission of international organizations is to set out and develop strategies and methodologies of development so that the locals could follow. Do you think that is happening? Are locals trying to pick up what you have showed them?
Throp: I think that is something that we believe in. That is the philosophy that we have at Plan. We are privileged to be here and to be able to offer support but in the long term we would obviously like, not just in Ethiopia but in all the countries we work in, to be able to carry the development forward through their own citizens and civil society and the government. Are we doing this the best we can? I think we are trying.
Capital: Can you give us an example where you have been effective at that?
Throp: One good example of that is our work around early childhood development. This is a package of activities for the children before they go into primary school. The target is from birth to eight years and it is not just running a kindergarten or a preschool but also looking at good parenting, nutritional practices in the home, etc. It is an established package of measures for the children to grow up healthily and to be stimulated before they eventually go to school. So, Plan has quite a lot of practice in that from around the world and also in Ethiopia. And there has been some successful collaboration with the Ministry of Education here in developing the government’s policies on that. I am happy to see that is moving forward. So, that’s one very practical example where we have seen very good positive change. We are not trying to say that is entirely because of Plan. We are not the only people thinking about this, but together with others and with the government itself.
Your original hypothesis is correct. There are too many children and there are too many needs here in Ethiopia and in the world generally. For us to even think that it is our responsibility to deal with all these problems are not correct. What we can do is piloting, innovating and documenting lessons and hopefully put it at the policy table so that the key stakeholders (it is usually the government) can think about this whether it is worth adopting and scaling up and expanding.