“This is a day to celebrate the fact that it is girls who will change the world; that the empowerment of girls holds the key to development and security for families, communities and societies worldwide”
-Desmond Tutu and Ela Bhatt, members of the Elders
The United Nations has declared today, October 11th, the first International Day of the Girl Child.
For those of you who have spent time around TTL, or may have realised from our website and blog, TTL is a very female friendly place. Over eighty percent of our staff are female (including management) and because of the nature of child rearing in Lesotho, so are the vast majority of the caregivers we work with.
And it turns out, TTL isn’t an oddity. Its female staff are just some of the many across Lesotho who have been able to acquire an education and find employment. Across a number of indicators ranging from access to health services to representation in the government, Lesotho demonstrates strong levels of gender equality. In fact, it has been amongst the top ten countries in the world in terms of gender parity for the last three years running. Its global gender gap rating puts it ahead of the US, Canada, the UK and all of its regional African neighbours. For a country that is so often associated with poverty and stalled development, it’s nice to know that Lesotho is a leader for its neighbours in trying to ensure that girls have as many opportunities as boys while growing up.
The International Day of the Girl Child marks an important chance to recognise the progress Lesotho has made, as well as the challenges it still faces. Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately affect girls and women – reflected in higher infections rates as well as the burden of caring for gravely ill family members or the infant children they leave behind. Sexual violence and coercion, traditional beliefs about masculinity, and unequal gender relations all continue to fuel the HIV epidemic.
The devastating consequences HIV/AIDS has had on household structures and the ongoing pressures of poverty combined with community expectations for women to fill specific domestic roles means that girls may end up leaving school earlier than they should. I can think of a handful of cases from TTL’s recent history where we have stepped in to help a family care for an infant child to alleviate the burden on a teenage girl left to run a household or try to keep a girl in school for a little bit longer following the death of a main caregiver.