"I used to be a very shy girl with little confidence. I didn't take up leadership roles or have any clear goal of who I wanted to be in the future. For me, hiding in the crowd and being in my comfort zone was just the right thing for a girl to do," says Ama, a 14-year-old girl from Ghana.
Ama represents many girls in rural Ghana, who due to traditional beliefs and culture, have been brought up with the knowledge that girls are to be seen and not heard, whilst leadership roles and white-collar-jobs are the preserve of men.
The sky is the limit if we work hard - this has really encouraged me to keep learning.
Through Plan International Ghana's Girl Power Project, girls' camps are organised for those from hard to reach and deprived communities to empower them with basic skills to build their confidence and encourage them to aspire for greater heights in society. In 2014, over 700 girls, including those with disabilities, participated in the project.
Typically, camp sessions are organised during vacation periods and last for 8 days in each region's largest town. Girls who attend the camps mostly come from rural communities. Many have never been to large towns and arrive excited to be exposed to the wider environment beyond their local areas.
At the camps, girls interact with several female role models who motivate them to climb the academic ladder and achieve success in the future. The girls are given training in ICT, gender and reproductive health and visit places of educational interest, such as universities that show the girls what is possible if they work hard and continue their education.
Now I know I will also go to university in the near future.
"I was not really sure I could become a great person in the future but after meeting with the Ghana Educational Service Manager, I felt I could be like her. She said the sky is the limit if we work hard - this has really encouraged me to keep learning," says camp attendee Doris.
With the aim of enabling financially challenged girls to generate funds during vacations to support their education, participants at the girls' camps are also trained in practical skills such as making soap, beads and fascinators (decorative headpieces).
Another girl, Vida, says "I was very happy when we visited the University of Ghana Campus. I saw many girls there contrary to my earlier thought that only boys make it to university. Now I know I will also go to university in the near future. It is a very beautiful place with tall buildings and nice people."
Unlocking the power of girls
Research undertaken by Plan International in Spain, Uganda and Colombia has shown that gender inequality is still very much woven into the fabric of our society. A complex thread of discrimination runs through girls' lives - often beginning at home. As Paola, 16, from Colombia put it:
“At home I have to sweep, wash the dishes and wash my brother’s clothes. He was brought to the world as a trophy that is cleaned and taken care of and it makes me feel bad. How is it possible that I have to do everything and also have to wash his clothes? He can learn too.”
Florence, 16, from Uganda, had some insight into how we can tackle the issue of inequality:
“Most of the men feel they are superior to the women because they still provide them with money. But if a woman had a business of her own, if she was equipped with social survival skills, she’d be able to earn as a woman and not depend on the money coming from her husband. In most cases that is what restrains women from their rights because the man knows he is the sole provider, he is the breadwinner.”
Our research points to a world where adolescent girls are thwarted by prejudice. Girls' opportunities are limited by discrimination that begins from a young age and follows them through their lives. This is why initiatives like the Girl Power Project are so crucial. The key to equality is to challenge these widespread discriminatory attitudes and behaviour, and encourage girls to believe in their own power and potential for success.
STAND WITH GIRLS
Girls everywhere are undervalued, undermined and underestimated. But they're calling time on inequality.
This is how girls get equal.