5 Powerful Conversations to Empower Girls
African context surrounding conversations with girls
“Women are better suited for baby-making than money-making” is a phrase the average African girl has heard one too many times. It is based on no scientific evidence, a pure myth, and yet keeps driving the decisions of many families, in the past and at present. Girls and women continue to battle these pervasive views and beliefs that limit their potential and opportunities and some of these include the belief that investing in women/girls is a waste of time; in actual fact, investing in closing the gender gap will increase GDP globally. Up to $28 trillion or 26% increase will be seen in the global annual GDP by 2025 according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report.
Culturally, domestic chores are the basic responsibility of the female children, because of the notion that girls have been endowed with the special ability to do it. Girls are basically prototype mothers whose major responsibilities in life are to take care of their husbands and children even to the detriment of their own personal ambitions, dreams, and happiness. Empowerment, therefore, is only advisable when it can assist them in becoming responsible housekeepers. As such, female children are made to believe that they are objects of male dominance whose education must end in the household domestic affairs since they are less competent at any other thing that men and boys do.
The effects of conversations that girls are exposed to from an early age
The effect of girls being exposed to the above conversations is that they begin to see themselves as inferior to boys and many deliberately lower their ambitions so as not to be seen as competitors to men. Girls end up believing that an educated and empowered woman will dominate her husband. This belief that educated and empowered girls will look down on men negatively impacts girls’ empowerment and serves as an impediment from pursuing their goals.
Psychologically, these conversations have lifelong effects on girls. It affects their life outcomes because they tend to deliberately stick to the limits that have been placed on them leading to lower earnings, abandoned dreams, and goals and lower life satisfaction. The social impact often involves low self-esteem due to being unable to fully participate in society, their own personal decision-making, personal empowerment, and community engagement. At the end of the day, without exposure to empowering conversations from an early age, girls do not have the opportunity to fully participate in a democratic society and this affects their overall health and wellbeing and often has a lasting multigenerational impact.
Empowering conversations that should girls to be exposed to:
Girls need to be educated on access to finance, particularly those in rural areas. Access to finance is a real challenge for many African women and is a way for them to achieve their entrepreneurial goals. The conversation has to go towards telling them the kinds of businesses they can do to help themselves. Just like education, access to finance and ensuring entrepreneurship has a ripple effect. It means access to self-sufficiency, dignity, and security. The benefit extends to the community and generations to come. Studies from the World Bank show that when a mother has a source of income, the chances of her child surviving go up by up to 20% in Brazil. In Kenya also, a child will grow up to 17% taller when mothers invest more of their income in health and nutrition. These are things girls need to be told from an early age.
It is important to talk to girls about building their self-esteem and confidence and how to rise above outside influences such as media influence and peer pressure as well as pressure from family. Self-esteem is built up over time and it goes hand in hand with confidence. It is made up of thoughts, opinions, and feelings a girl has about herself and as such, it can change based on the way a girl thinks. It is important not to think negatively about one’s self regardless of circumstances because changing the way you think about yourself changes the way you feel about yourself.
To build confidence, girls have to be taught to focus on what goes well for them and not on their problems and also aim for effort and not necessarily perfection. Any mistake made is a learning opportunity. Also, girls need to try new things and give themselves credit for trying. Conversations they are exposed to need to remind them to change thoughts that make them feel inferior by not comparing themselves to others; focusing on what they do well and cheer others for their success because everyone excels at different things; recognize what can be changed and what cannot especially when it comes to flaws. Things like height, complexion, and family background cannot be changed. If it is something that can be changed, then they need to start immediately. It is important to tell them to set goals, make plans, and keep track of progress.
Career and passion driven conversations
Girls need to be exposed to conversations that let them understand that a workforce that is healthier increases prosperity across nations and a more productive economy. To achieve this, a girl needs to be empowered adequately to advocate for herself and make the decisions that affect her own life and future by herself. When a girl focuses on building a career and facing her passion no matter what that is, the potential of building a happier home is higher and this ultimately contributes to peaceful neighbourhoods despite higher economic pressures in urban centres especially. Her satisfaction with her life will also increase which will affect all members of her household, including her own daughters positively.
Self-love and self-worth conversations
Girls need to be taught how to accept compliments graciously and to not overlook the positive things people say about them. Conversations from an early age need to teach them to learn to appreciate and absorb compliments and take them seriously and also to give sincere compliments to others too as this does not in any way diminish their own self-worth. They need to love themselves first and in the right way before those around them can love them and be their own best advocate. They need to also take pride in their opinions and ideas as a girl and that someone disagreeing with them doesn’t affect their worth or intelligence.
Girls need to also make a contribution early by volunteering in their community when possible. When a girl does things that can make a difference, no matter how little, it builds her sense of self-worth and positive opinion of herself and makes her feel good. She needs to understand that her self-worth is not directly connected to her appearance and how she dresses. Instead, conversations should go towards kindness, effort, problem-solving abilities, integrity, determination, and other positive characteristics. Also, her worth isn’t built on achievements but on the effort and mental aptitude to meet set goals and she needs to love herself enough to not be in competition with other women but focusing on her own positive traits and cheering others on.
More than a wife and mother conversations
Conversations along this line need to start very early. Girls need to know that beyond motherhood and being a wife, acquiring the right skills and knowledge to find employment and as a means to support themselves and their families as the case may be. It is important to have confidence in their own abilities so as to be able to stand up to the injustices which girls face such as child marriage. Furthermore, empowered girls have the right mindset to challenge conventional norms and reshape perspectives, and to model the lives of the generations after them. This makes the life of a girl much more important and valuable than just being a wife and mother.
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The SaGG Foundation (Sponsor a Gambian Girl) is a girl’s education movement, with aim of championing the cause for girl child education in The Gambia. Education is a basic human right; our vision is to advocate and champion for girls' education.