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Editor’s Note: Author Don Tapscott will be blogging guest daily from Davos.
I spent a week in Kenya last summer traveling with my family in remote communities. We met many beautiful people and made many friends, both men and women. But the plight of girls was so moving. I have an image emblazoned in my mind of a 13-year-old girl with a baby on her back, who was helping her 60-year-old husband tend goats. Female circumcision (mutilation of girls) is common practice and a standard procedure during puberty. Girls are married right after puberty often to much older men. Girls are less likely to be educated and trafficking in women is rampant.
So I made a point of attending a session called the “Girl Effect On Development.” I learned that the treatment of girls in developing countries is a huge, and perhaps the biggest, problem in development.
I encourage everyone reading this blog to take two minutes right now and watch the following slideshow, which was shown at the beginning of the session.
There are 600 million adolescent girls living in poverty in the developing world. By giving one of these girls a chance, you start the girl effect. When girls have safe places to meet, education, legal protection, health care, and access to training and job skills, they can thrive. And if they thrive, everyone around them thrives, too.
The picture painted during the panel discussion is grim. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by poverty. Parents in many cultures don’t want their daughters to be educated. Research shows that an educated girl will invest 90% of her future income in her family (compared to 30-40 percent for males), yet less than a penny of every international development dollar is spent on her. 70 percent of the children out of school are girls. Many laws are discriminatory. Sexual violence is a big problem that is greatly underestimated. 75 percent of adolescents with AIDS are female, and they’re contracting the disease not from boys but from older men.
A young girl who has a baby before the age of 20 she is five times more likely to die in childbirth than if she is over 20. So family planning is important. In many countries women need their husband’s approval to get a passport, own property, get divorced, and do other things, including even the right to work.
Panellist Mari Pangestu, Minister of Trade for Indonesia, told the story of her own childhood. She grew up in traditional family. Her mother told her “Don’t be smart and don’t show that you’re smart or you’ll never get married.” When she got educated he mother said “Whatever you do don’t get a PhD.” But she became the first woman to ever have a PhD in Economics in Indonesia. Her situation was exceptional, because it was actually her father who emphasized the importance of education.
Mark Parker is the chief executive officer of Nike Inc. His company has been damned in the past for its indifference to the plight of citizens of developing countries. I’ve had several discussions with him, and he is a very thoughtful person with a strong commitment to improving the state of the world. Today he says that Nike is the business of human potential, and that is ultimately true of all of us. The impact of positive changes to the family, village, and community is transformative, leading to social stability and economic development. “We concluded that the most neglected part of the world’s population is also the part of the population that could make the biggest impact if supported,” he says.
Sherri Blair spoke from the audience and said the ideas being discussed are so positive. “We’re talking about the strongest people in communities and societies and what they’ve had to endure. They’re not asking for our pity, but for our support.”
There is a Facebook group called “The Girl Effect.”
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