My name is Aida, I am a 23 year-old girl from Senegal and as many other young people, I love life and aspire to play an important role in my country, as a girl but also as a leader!
You know, for decades, Africa - because of its economic and social situation – has had huge problems, and we young people, we young girls I should say, are particularly affected by those problems.
Let’s start with a concrete example: ME
I did get the chance to be enrolled in school when I was six years old. At the age of 15, when I was in first year of secondary school, I decided to stop my studies. You will certainly wonder why? Precisely because I had no support. I am not talking about material or financial support, but a moral one. I had no one to push me, motivate me, support me morally, and inform me about the risks I run by dropping out of school. I needed a counselor, someone who could have advised me.
I always thought that assertiveness, being independent, necessarily involved the acquisition of financial resources, which is why instead of choosing school, I decided to start an income-generating activity and open my own little food stall, and get enough money to take care of myself and help my parents. This is a form of pride in our culture. The more you help your parents, the more you are perceived as a responsible child who is likely to succeed.
The harmful effects of not having access to education
I now bitterly regret not having continued my studies, like many other girls my age who had to leave school for various reasons. Indeed, over time, we realised that we had given up on a fundamental right: the right to education.
It is not just a RIGHT that I lost, but an opportunity that was offered to me by going to school. The opportunity to gain knowledge, to graduate, to get useful skills, to have a profession, to claim a well-paid job, to occupy positions of high responsibility, and to participate in decisions that affect MY LIFE, to be listened to, to be confident enough to stand-up and say NO to any form of aggressions that girls can be victim of.
Challenges girls face
I must say that I was privileged because I had access to education even though I did not understand fully this opportunity. In my country, many young people have no access at all to education for several reasons:
• In urban and rural areas alike, many parents believe that the education of girls cannot be pushed, the vocation of the daughter being to marry, to have children and to take care of the family. The advantage is given to boys who get priority to enroll in school.
• Girls quickly become a work force and are needed to help with house chores, or have to go to the city and work as nannies or housecleaners to earn money and be able to take care of themselves and help their family.
• The vulnerability of girls is the cause of many sexual assaults that result in unwanted pregnancy and consequently, dropouts of school. Meanwhile, the boy who made this girl pregnant continues his studies without any worries, it is unfair! Pregnancy is a major challenge that we must continue to fight for girls who get pregnant to have the opportunity to continue studying. It also requires that our parents understand that education is not just for men, and that when given a chance, girls can get as high as or higher than boys. So it is necessary that our parents stop believing in gender stereotypes and let us continue our studies instead of putting us in a marriage that will create more misery than happiness.
Senegal's policies have tried to improve girl’s access to education for a long time, but not enough to see tangible results. We need to advocate on this issue to push the government to take the necessary decisions.
Girls are citizens who can be vehicles for change in their societies.
The Youth economic empowerment project I am involved with through Plan International has allowed me to better understand the role that I can play in my neighborhood and immediate environment, and with all the young girls who need to understand that girls are citizens who can be vehicles for change in their societies. This requires taking control over your future, believing in yourself, continuing your education - it is never too late to study! Thanks to training sessions I received as part of the project and because I was given an opportunity to speak up, I am now able to advocate to policymakers, and to be the voice of other young people.
I am aware of the strength that we represent, we girls, and I use this strength to establish a forum of ideas with representatives of the government on the International Day of the Girl Child, the Day of the African Child or any other opportunity where I can make myself heard.
It is a daily job with my friends, my parents, my parents’ friends. I tell them about the importance of education and push to end child marriage and other harmful practices against girls which represent obstacles to our education. This is not easy because as a young girl I am often ignored at first, but in the end, I manage to put my message out there.
My ambitions as a young girl
Today I own a little restaurant, a small eatery that serves breakfast and that allows me to earn a living and help my family if necessary. I consider this as a way to reach my bigger goal. My ambition is to earn enough money to resume my studies, and to realise my dream: owning a big restaurant in the capital Dakar, where I will serve all the best African dishes! Too ambitious you would say? Yes, I know, but as we say: When you want something, you must give yourself the means of its ambition. I am confident enough to give you an appointment in a few years in my restaurant to be called ... I will tell you when my goal is reached, and if you continue to read my blog!
I hope that the Sustainable Development Goals will resolve the issue of poverty and equality of opportunity between girls and boys in access to education, that they will reduce gender gaps, facilitate the inclusion of vocational trainings and define concrete actions that will help reduce the vulnerability of the girl child and their marginalisation.
In short, I personally want a shift in mindsets. I want women to stay active and not to give up. I want discrimination to end, and gender equality to be achieved all over the world. And I appeal to our leaders, and our parents, to do more to reduce gender disparities in order to allow girls to participate as much as boys in African development.
Guest blog by Aida, 23, Senegal