Let’s talk about adolescent girls and social norms

 “100s of millions of girls are missing because of female foeticide 
- 66 million girls do not have access to primary education and to the
 first cycle of secondary education
- 50% of the victims of sexual abuses are girls under 15
- In developing countries, 1 girl out of 7 is married before she reaches 15
.” Lucille Terré (Consultation Participant).

Wikichild and Wikigender are currently running an online discussion on the impact of discriminatory social norms on adolescent girls* that will close on Friday 11 April 2013.

There is compelling evidence that adolescent girls are an untapped segment of society and are essential if we are to achieve future development goals. Young women across the world suffer from a plethora of gender based inequalities created by imbedded social institutions such as: early marriage, domestic violence, the division of labour in the household, restricted physical integrity, limited fertility preferences and unequal inheritance rights (See more at www.genderindex.org). With these discriminatory social norms in mind, we have asked our partners and members of the public to firstly express their views on how such norms shape the lives of adolescent girls by influencing their access to opportunities, resources and power, and secondly, which interventions are the most effective in transforming and in some cases removing them.    

This online consultation has brought to light a fascinating and diverse array of comments, ranging from personal experiences to research based observations from organisations such as OECD Development CentrePlan UK and ProRights Consulting. We have also enjoyed a strong following on social media with over 450 tweets about the consultation including mentions from the OECDUNDP and the Girl Effect. Over the course of the discussion, many topics have been addressed and this blog will look at two particular subjects that have drawn attention from groups and individuals.  

A particular focus on the forum is education and our contributors have been discussing how discriminatory norms impede girls across the world from gaining the vital skills needed to enter the working world. ASCD and HBSC who both specialize in the area of adolescent education have added interesting examples, with the latter stipulating that adolescent girls’ well-being is linked to the place of women in the societies in which they are growing up. Since education is such a focal point of early development, HBSC cites good schooling as a central component of a decent upbringing. Similarly, the Primary Edu Project argues that educating young girls is a necessity. The project refers to the specific case of Pakistan, where teenagers are encouraged not to waste their time going to school because ‘they are only going to get married, have babies and stay in the house’. Primary Edu stipulates that this ideology must be removed if young women are to have an equal chance of succeeding in life and suggests that change must begin with the parents, who need to be convinced of the benefits that an education can provide. This comment ran nicely with a contribution from Sultana Razia, who uses her experience of growing up in a Bangladeshi village where female illiteracy was more than 90%, to encourage the need to change multiple social norms that discriminate girls, such as treatment in school and the work place, in a bid to achieve gender equality in that area of the world.

Female Genital Mutilation
Another topic that has drawn particular attention is female genital mutilation, and the desire shown by our contributors to have this practice eradicated is emblematic of a consensual desire among them to see imbedded practices, that encourage violence against women, to be removed from societies worldwide. According to one contributor Ousmane, widespread female genital mutilation is still practiced in Senegal, with a higher prevalence in rural areas, and he believes that it will take great dedication to remove this deeply entrenched tradition from local communities. However, he is encouraged by the activities of Tostan, an NGO that is making steady progress towards its abolition through its focus on a community-based approach now being implemented in surrounding villages. According to Laura Young-Sing’Oei, who works for ProRights Consulting, there are many community-based organizations like Tostan, that are finding creative and innovative ways to work with traditional structures to begin to confront norms that harm girls such as FMG. By empowering women, and educating them on the dangers of such practices, it is hopeful that they will go on to protect their own adolescent daughters and in turn set a trend for future generations.  

These are just two examples of the topics being discussed on the consultation, and the really interesting assortment of responses we are receiving. Following the conclusion of the discussion, we will present a paper on its findings at a workshop on “Empowering adolescent girls by tackling social norms” that takes place on 26 April in London! The event will be co-organised by the OECD Development Centre, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the Department for International Development (DFID UK) and The Girl Hub. There are only 3 days left to make your voice heard, so don’t hesitate!

The discussion will close on 11 April 2013 at 17h (GMT+1), click here to read and participate

*The online discussion is organised in partnership with the Health Behaviour in School-aged ChildrenResearch Network (HBSC), the Department for International Development (DFID UK), ASCD – The Whole Child, the Girl Hubthe Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Plan (UK).
The Wikiprogress Team