Campaigning the Cause-Why young women and Girls

Women and girls suffer disproportionally from the burden of extreme poverty and ill-health,70% of the world’s extreme poor are women and girls. Liberia has a growing population of 4.5 million with a 2.1% growth rate annually (Liberia Demographic and Health Survey 2013). The adolescent and youth population constitutes 63% of the general population and females account for nearly 60% of the country's population. Liberia is one of those ale dominant societies that requires women’s to subordinate to men and economically rely on them for survival making it more difficult to escape poverty.  In the absence of equal opportunities, girls will never be able to realize their full potential.    

Young women and girls experience high rates of gender violence and abuse at school and in the home without knowing their human and child’s rights. In Liberia, there are 1 million adolescents aged 10–19 years – 23.2% of the country’s total population. Just over half of adolescents live in rural areas and 52.8% are adolescent girls. By the age of 18, a Liberia girl has a 50% chance that she is married and a 31% chance that she already has children. By age 19, the mean number of years of schooling attended by adolescent girls is 5.8.

A girl can deeply understand the significance of gaining self-control over her life and body when she sees that the entire well-being of her is at the forefront of developmental interventions. By this, she will gain confidence as an empowered young woman to give her opinions and speak out against violence which is going to decrease her chances of falling into the dangers of sexual violence, child marriage, teenage pregnancy and or exposure to HIV/AIDS.

While there are numerous factors contributing to the statistics, the limited number of community based initiatives and outreach services to provide education, SRHR, and economic empowerment programs and services at the community level has an important causative relationship. Despite the remarkable progress the government has made in the health and gender sectors, efforts to achieve the health related global development goals  remains a challenge. Adolescents, women of childbearing age and children under five bear the greatest burden of morbidity and mortality due to inability of the systems to respond adequately to their health and socialwelfare needs.With focus and contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), FIWG interventions support SDGs 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8. Working to end hunger, achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture (SDG 2), FIWG works with rural young women and girls through agricultural and health programs enabling them to stay healthy while being economically self-reliant as a result of increased income from their agricultural productivity. Ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all at all ages (SDG 3), FIWG provides and promotes increased access to SRHR services for all but more specifically women and adolescent girls in the rural areas where unmet needs are high and the situation is appalling. The unmet need for family Planning in Liberia is 31% among married women and much higher among single women according to the 2013 demographic health survey. More than 60% of the country's women have their first birth before age 20. Teenage pregnancy rate as reported by the demographic health survey estimates an average of 36% with region specific rates as high as 42%. Total fertility rate is averaged at 4.7 with regions in the south-eastern parts of the country having fertility rates of 8 or more. This is generally attributed to early marriage, limited social development opportunities, limited access to family planning knowledge and services, and low education status of girls in the rural areas. On the other hand, the maternal mortality rate has remained high since 2007 to 2010 between 994 to 1,072/100,000 live births (LDHS 2007 and LDHS 2013). It is estimated that 1.9% of the population have been diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, including the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) (LDHS 2013). Working to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all (SDG 4), FIWG recognizes that education, specifically a holistic life skills training and economic empowerment programs are key to unlocking the barriers of poverty and gender inequality. When girls have access to an education, they are more likely to earn an income—with 4% more of a return than boys if they complete secondary school. And every year a girl is in school, it increases her future earnings by 10%. Yet, keeping girls in school is a challenge due to negative cultural attitudes towards girls’ education. In Liberia, a girl’s school dropout out is at an average of 50 percent. Working to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls (SDG 5), FIWG also realizes that gender parity at the basic level is being improved as a result of the policy on girl’s education, but more needs to be achieved at a national level. Girls under age 15 years report that they are being forced into sexual activities against their will and 11 percent of girls are married by age 15 years and 38 percent by age 18 (LDHS 2013). In ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all (SDG 6), FIWG tackles menstrual health and hygiene and its impact on girls’ ability to stay in school during “that time of the month”. It is now well known that menstruation is a barrier to girls’ education and overall health and well-being. In response to this pressing issue, FIWG teaches girls how to make sanitary pads for themselves and manage menstruation hygienically. Promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all (SDG 8), FIWG understands that investing in girls early in their development has a ripple effect. Studies show that educated and empowered girls receive better wages, raise healthier and better-educated children, are less likely to experience domestic violence and contribute to the development of their communities.

It is clear that the efforts of the Health, Education and Gender Ministries and their partners require support. Partnership and strong coordination to increase access to services and reduce unmet need for both information and services remains crucial. With the above mentioned, FIWG was established as a local NGO to complement the Government of Liberia efforts in providing economic empowerment, health, leadership and holistic educational opportunities to the young women, youth and adolescent girls inclusively through participatory and community engagement activities. To retain this in the midst of global financial downturn, the Organization will strive to consolidate its institutional capacity for effective program management as well as mobilize resources for improving and maintaining high quality services to the population, especially to the rural, marginalized and vulnerable inhabitants. With the increased demand for economic empowerment including leadership and SRH/R services, FIWG interventions focus on  four Counties (Bong, Grand Bassa, Gbarpolu and Rural Montserrado) currently. FIWG leverages on donor income and its social enterprise services to attain maximum coverage of all its programs where there are growing demands for economic empowerment and service delivery especially in the rural areas where the roads are deplorable and largely inaccessible.