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Investing in girls

By Vibeke Brask Thomsen, GenderHopes*

Watching the “Clock is Ticking” brings up a lot of feelings ranging from anger at the situation, sadness, hope and a feeling a power, as the video makes the viewer feels that s/he can have an impact on the situation.

As the video progresses, young girls and women are increasingly portrayed as actors of their lives. Two factors are portrayed as essential to allow girls to make a change in their future: education and access to health care, and by having access to those factors, the life of a girl can change for the better. While this is true, there are unfortunately many other factors that will have an impact. A central one is the way men will perceive the “investing in girls” trend. The video does not discuss how it is essential to integrate men in the process of change and ensure they are educated so they won’t feel threatened, but rather see it as a benefit to their life too. The emergence of the Girl Effect is a highly positive development, as the inclusion of a gender perspective to the majority of public policy decisions was not even debated 20 years ago.

The videos illustrate the importance of including women and girls in decision-making processes because it portrays them as essential actors in getting their country out of poverty. The videos highlight that economic development will follow if girls have access to education and health care. In the post-conflict environment that I have previously worked in, the Girl Effect has been reflected as decision-makers understand that post-conflict reconstruction cannot be successful and long lasting if women are not included in reconciliation processes. Furthermore, if violence committed towards women in times of conflict is not addressed and perpetrators don’t face justice, lasting national reconciliation will be a farce.

The Girl Effect will, and already has, influenced how money is spent and which initiatives are selected. It is still a work in progress, but an increasing number of agencies are including a gender-sensitive evaluation to any project before accepting and implementing it. Ensuring that girls and women are included and will benefit from a given program has become an essential point for numerous funders when deciding on their funding strategies.

In this sense, it is crucial that states and governmental agencies, including the European Union, take specific actions to ensure that gender is addressed when implementing policies in developing countries. In many aspects, the EU is a precursor in the field and has already ensured that, for example, a gender advisor is included in all its missions abroad.

One of those gender advisors recalls her experience in one of the EU missions: the EU had provided funding for the construction of a bridge in a post-conflict country, and as the gender advisor from the mission, she decided to visit the building site. She was quickly shoved away, with the words “what does a gender advisor have to do with the construction of a bridge?” However, she asked a few questions, notably who the bridge was aimed for. The immediate response of the head engineer was that the bridge was “for everybody who wants to use it of course!” The gender advisor challenged his answer:

  • “Does that include women?”
  • “Of course it does. Women can use this bridge too”.
  • “But how will women cross the bridge? Are they allowed to drive in this country, or do they even have a regular access to a car?”
  • “No no no, women are not allowed to drive here! But they can cross by foot”.

 

At this point, the gender advisor took a walk around the bridge. She noticed that it was a four-lane motorway but that no pedestrian sidewalk had been planned, meaning that women, who will be crossing on foot, will have to share the road with numerous honking cars, while carrying their children, groceries and belongings to sell on the market. A situation, which would, of course, put women at risk everyday. After consultation with the village leaders and the EU, a safe pedestrian sidewalk was built on the bridge so women would be able to cross securely. Such a situation illustrates the importance of including a gender perspective at every step of public policies, from preparation, to projection to implementation.

Otherwise, policies supposed to improve the condition of everybody would effectively exclude half the population that is supposed to benefit from them. Hence, the essential need for the Girl Effect.

*Vibeke Brask Thomsen is Danish-born but grew up in France and Switzerland. She graduated with a Master in Public Policy and a MA in Russian and East European Studies from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan in 2006. Prior to that, she interned with the Danish Delegation to the OSCE in Vienna and with the EastWest Institute in Brussels, where she developed an interest for security issues and disarmament.  She moved to Brussels in 2007 and worked at ISIS Europe on arms control, gender and security, nuclear non-proliferation and EU security policy. She moved back to France in 2010 and has started a non-profit organization, called GenderHopes, which focuses on violence against women in conflict and post-conflict, education of women and girls and their equal participation in all spheres of society.

2 thoughts on “Investing in girls”

  1. Ciara Ferry says:

    Fabulous! Such an advisor should be required everywhere.

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