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Everything including the girl

Maria Njeri Maria Njeri Foundation & Leonard Cheshire
  • 11 Oct 2018
  • 6 min

Every time I think how far we’ve come as the global society in uplifting the girl child, as a young person with a disability, I’m also reminded of how far we must go. Even in terms of girls’ empowerment, the ills of society such as stigma and discrimination, FGM, child marriage and the sex trade are still hampering the development of a genuinely inclusive workforce.

Photo: UNICEF/Madeleine Logan
Photo: UNICEF/Madeleine Logan

International Day of the Girl is this year concerned with the message “With Her: A Skilled Girl Force”. Achieving anything in terms of girls’ empowerment for a skilled workforce must begin with preserving girls’ dignity and cultivating her role as a woman. It would not be enough with just empowerment alone.

Most women aspire to be brave, venturing only where “the boys” were formerly allowed in business, manufacturing, technology, innovation, engineering, politics and high corporate positions.

A famous Fanti (Ghanaian) proverb says; “If you educate a woman, you educate a nation”. When girls are educated, it is a large sum investment in the future workforce, building a foundation for a more resourceful nation. Girls in the skilled workforce need fairness to compete and there needs to be greater emphasis on gender equity on a global scale where her qualifications will not be questioned. This is especially true for girls with disabilities, who often face the triple discrimination of gender, poverty and disability.

It’s unfortunate that in 2018, deep inequalities persist and for disabled girls the situation is exacerbated. UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) statistics show that while the literacy rate for adults with disabilities is 3%, just 1% of women with disabilities are literate. If a solid education for disabled girls in the global south is so rare, it’s no wonder we are still left behind in a system that has the odds stacked against girls and women generally.

For a girl to be rated as ‘good’ within the standards of her work specialty, she must sustain the fight by always being more productive, skilled, creative and confident and be a more complimentary worker. If you have a disability, you also must prove that you are ‘able’.

For a skilled workforce, mentorship plays a key role. The girls who went beforehand and became masters of skills can play a vital role in properly nurturing and creating powerhouses of effectiveness and efficiency that can drive change in whichever sector. We need to support women with disabilities to mentor girls with disabilities, so they can become the future leaders.

Girls can be dynamic beyond expectation when well educated, well equipped and with opportunity for further learning. Currently, globalisation and technology will always be advancing. And technology has the power to be even more transformative for girls with disabilities, to support greater accessibility and participation. However, we need to ensure that girls with disabilities are provided with the skills to access and harness technology.

The strength of a skilled workforce is embedded in its ability to embrace diversity-including girls from all backgrounds, identities, social classes, abilities and status — and provide opportunities that exclude nobody, especially girls with disabilities.