Teach a girl, enrich the world

By Erna Solberg and Hannah Godefa, Special to CNN

See original content on CNN

Editor’s note: Erna Solberg is prime minister of Norway and co-chair of the U.N. Secretary General’s Millennium Development Goals Advocates. Hannah Godefa is UNICEF National Ambassador for Ethiopia. The views expressed are their own. This is the latest in a series of articles ahead of a special GPS show from Davos this Sunday.

As the humanitarian crises in South Sudan and Syria and Central African Republic continue to unfold, girls are once again caught in the cross-fire. Murdered by soldiers, killed or sexually assaulted as they flee, their lives are being ravaged by wars they did not start. Once again, they are the victims of somebody else’s dispute, subjected to sexual violence by those hoping to achieve their military and political goals.

How much more are we willing to stand?

Currently 28.5 million children in conflict-affected countries are out of school, more than half of them are girls. It is not just their security, but their education and hope for a better life that are being ruined.

But these girls don’t need to be faceless, voiceless statistics. They can be victors, like Malala, who captivated us when she bravely stood up for her right to education, changing the way we think about young girls and their rights.

The key is investing in girls’ potential, something that can be a win-win for everyone – enabling female participation in local economies can accelerate the fight against poverty, inequity and gender disparity. When you educate a girl, you educate a nation.
This is one of the key messages we, the prime minister of Norway and a 16-year-old UNICEF National Ambassador for Ethiopia, will deliver this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos as we encourage those gathered to “reshape the world” by putting young girls first. We will raise our voices to galvanize the crucial support needed to change attitudes and transform the lives of the countless Malalas, standing together to ensure that these girls are neither invisible nor forgotten.

We are two very different women from different generations, cultures and countries, but like millions of other women and men out there, we agree on this: invest in girls. The question is, is anyone really listening to such calls? After all, we’ve been talking about giving girls equal access to education, employment and healthcare for the past three decades. Will the international community – government, business and the general public – finally take much needed action?

Educated girls and women have smaller families and healthier children, are less likely to die in childbirth, are more likely to see their children survive past the age of 5, are more likely to send their children to school, and are better able to protect themselves and their children from malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, trafficking, and sexual exploitation. Education empowers women, multiplying their economic choices and contributions, and increasing their political voice and influence across the board.

The numbers don’t lie. For every year a girl stays in school and learns, her future earnings increase hugely. An extra year of primary school education, for example, boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. A one percentage point increase in female secondary education raises the average level of GDP by 0.3 percentage points. Does anyone need more convincing?
In today’s hyper-networked world, we are witnessing unprecedented shifts in traditional power dynamics, and we will all end up impoverished if we remain complicit to girls being denied their right to a better future. Denying girls their rights – whether it be for social, cultural, or economic reasons – means that half the world’s population is prevented from fully contributing to its own economic growth and well-being and to that of local communities.

The voices calling for action are not just ours, but have been heard echoing around the world in the United Nations’ MY World survey on people’s development priorities, as well as in the action agenda laid out in the Girl Declaration. When girls and women across the developing world have been asked what they want for their future, the resounding answer is: education, jobs, healthcare and security.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been critical in galvanizing progress around gender equality and women’s empowerment, but we must build on this success. The clock is ticking: with close to 700 days to go until the MDGs deadline, the targets we set ourselves won’t be reached unless greater investment in girls’ empowerment is made. Without this, girls will continue to drop out of school for lack of safe and supportive learning environments. Women will still marry young, and will still die in childbirth each day for want of simple medical interventions.

As the old adage goes, you can teach a man to fish to feed himself for a lifetime. But if you invest in a girl, she feeds herself, educates future children, lifts up her community and propels her nation forward – charting a path that offers dignity for all in the process.

The story of a girl activist – Ethiopia

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When I was seven years old, I visited my parents’ rural hometown of Axum, and was staying with my grandmother. There was a young girl around my age there, and I became very good friends with her. Before I left, I wanted to keep in touch with her as a pen pal, but my parents explained to me that she did not have the pencils or materials to do so.

I knew in that moment that advocating for girls like me to have equal opportunities in education would be an important part of my life. I created a resource mobilisation project called Pencil Mountain that has delivered over half a million school resources to Ethiopian children.

Girls living in rural areas of Ethiopia are treated as an asset. A family values a girl for her ability to work. Girls do not have equal access to education with boys. There is a great disparity in literacy and if a parent has an opportunity to choose between sending a boy or girl to school, it is almost always the boy that is chosen.

The most difficult challenge I’ve faced is promoting this idea to rural communities where it a conflict of interest for community leaders. Tradition dictates that young girls at my age should be married, or stay home and support the family. It is not always easy to break through this mentality. However, the leadership in Ethiopia, and several NGOs have committed themselves to changing this longstanding mindset.

Biggest challenge: It’s been hard to balance my school and my advocacy work. I have learned to put my own education first, so that I can create a bigger impact later on. I strongly believe that every action for change, no matter how small, counts.

Proudest moment: I met Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper and the Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn. They are in a great position to implement change in educational rights.

My greatest achievement was being named Unicef goodwill ambassador for Ethiopia, because I have had an opportunity to bring a girl’s voice to an international level and raise awareness about education issues. Read Full story on The Guardian

Read more about Hannah Godefa

UNICEF celebrates International Day of the Girl Child

dayofthegirlEven though gender equality is on the table for the Post-2015 discussions, girls per se have little space in the discourse. In particular, girls’ education, acknowledged as the foundational basis not only for gender equality, but for a number of development outcomes is receiving limited and diluted attention.

Today October 11, 2013 International Day of the Girl Child is celebrated by UNICEF. As the lead organization for the day, UNICEF selected the theme “Innovating for Girls’ Education”, in recognition of the need for new, creative solutions to this very old challenge. We want to highlight the many different shapes innovation can take – technology is but one. This event provides an opportunity for global leaders from the UN, civil society and the private sector to hear girls’ voices and their innovative potential, and respond on how these can be reflected in the Post 2015 agenda, especially with regard to girls’ education.

UNICEF Ethiopia Goodwill Ambassador, Hannah Godefa, will be speaking during the event at HQ. Fifteen year old Hannah involved in humanitarian activities when she visited her native land, Ethiopia, for the first time. Coming from Canada, Hannah got her inspiration when she interacted with local girls from the countryside who lack access to basic education materials. ”Even though I was happy to see my extended family, I was also very sad to see children my age that do not get much food, medicine, quality education and orphaned due to HIV and AIDS.” said Hannah.

Touched by such an impoverished situation, she became the founder of “Pencil Mountain”; a resource mobilization project on basic school supplies to support children in remote areas of Ethiopia. More about Hannah Godefa

The event will be live streamed on http://www.unicef.org/gender/gender_66021.html and you can join the discussions by following #dayofthegirl and @UNICEFEthiopia on twitter

Check out inspiring stories from children in Ethiopia