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We Are Not Talking Enough about Ghanaian Girls
By Susan Ngongi, UNICEF Representative in Ghana
In commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October 2013.
We are not talking enough about girls. And certainly not enough about the transformative role they could have in growing Ghana’s economy, if they receive the right investments. To stop intergenerational poverty, it is cheaper and more effective to focus upstream, ensuring children and adolescents develop the cognitive and behaviour skills required to be productive adults, instead of engaging in remedial action later in their adult life.
Investments in girls yield the greatest national dividends.
Mothers transmit their social and economic status to their children more easily than fathers. Educated young women have smaller families and healthier children. They are less likely to marry young or die in childbirth, more likely to send their children to school, and better able to protect themselves and their children from malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, trafficking, and sexual exploitation.
An educated girl has better opportunities. She is more likely to get a job and earn a higher wage, and her nation’s economy is likely to benefit as a result. An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 per cent and an extra year of secondary school by 15 to 25 per cent. One percentage point increase in female education raises the average level of GDP by 0.3 percentage points.
Well implemented, schools boost productivity and are a great equalizer of opportunity. This is the main avenue through which to develop the skills of girls. Ghana has achieved parity between boys and girls in primary school, but the gap begins to show in secondary school and by the tertiary level there are approximately twice as many boys as girls.
Adolescent girls are very vulnerable when they leave the school system.
Schools do not exist in a cultural vacuum and the achievement of girls in school is often affected by the cultural values prevalent in the surrounding society. In all communities in Ghana, girls suffer many deprivations of their rights. Violence is prevalent. The burden of violence on women has serious consequences to their children. Customs and social practices also tend to affect girls more negatively than boys. In Ghana for instance, an estimated 27 per cent of women are married before the age of 18; 17 per cent of adolescent girls aged 15-19 have experienced sexual violence; 32 per cent reported physical violence since the age of 15.
Violence in communities affects access, retention and achievement in schools. Violence – in all its forms – affects cognitive development negatively. It also reduces the ability to learn behaviour skills such as self-control, planning for the future, the ability to engage with others, confidence and similar skills that are important for life – education, employment, parenting, being good citizens.
A recent study in Vanuatu has shown that the lifelong impact of child abuse amounts to around seven per cent of annual GDP in that country. The study also showed that investing in the prevention of child abuse costs less than one third of the financial losses associated with child abuse every year. We can assume violence has similar costs in other countries.
Innovations are needed to tackle the barriers that exist in schools and in communities that prevent girls from getting the education services necessary for their development.
There is strong evidence that the following interventions work for girls. Scholarships, stipends and cash transfers, complementary information, school feeding and the recruitment of female teachers help reduce barriers. Government already implements these interventions and has had successes, including high enrolment rates and parity in primary school.
But clearly there is more to be done. In these fiscally challenging times, we need to really ensure girls are getting the maximum benefit from monies being spent on these interventions and we should explore innovations that help improve financial transparency of their implementation.
SMS technology might be useful for this purpose. In Uganda, for example, a programme called EduTrack uses SMS technology to allow schools and communities to report on key challenges, such as teacher absences or violence in schools, challenges that often keep girls away from classrooms. The same technology could be used to improve financial transparency if designed to do so.
The Government is also developing a new child and family policy that aims to support parents with the aim of reducing violence in the home and in communities. The focus on generating evidence on violence experienced by children and supporting families and communities to address the violence is very encouraging. Implementation of the policy would complement efforts made in the school and more effectively address the multiple barriers that prevent girls from learning.
Perhaps however, the most important innovation would be for the Government to ensure inter-sectoral coordination of ministries and agencies, including tracking and annual reporting on the progress of girls, at the highest political levels. This would allow the country to actually know what level and kinds of investments are being made and what impact they are having. And guide future strategic investments in interventions that prove effective.
Helping all children grow into productive adults should be good enough reason to ensure they receive the appropriate investments and learning opportunities. That said, we cannot ignore the multiplier effect of investing in girls. Ghana must be willing to do things differently. To try new things, invest in what works and harness innovations that lead us to new creative, effective and efficient solutions.
Only by doing so will girls learn the skills they need for the challenges of the 21st century – to everyone’s benefit.