Here Come the Girls!

As you probably know, we have been tracing how COCO is helping to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This week, we are investigating inequality. Many of the SDGs target inequality in some form, but two goals in particular focus on this issue. 1a Shelter

SDG 5 is all about achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. Feminism and the concept of empowering women has played an influential role in international relations and public policy over recent years; you will probably remember the popular #heforshe twitter campaign kick-started by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, and the passing of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 which modernised and expanded the ban on the practice in the UK.

Discrimination against women and girls both in the public sphere and in their own homes is still ongoing. COCO works in a variety of developing countries, and in some communities, there are serious challenges for women and girls.

Across Africa, the legal minimum age for marriage varies from puberty upwards, and in many countries the legal minimum age for marriage is higher for boys. It comes as no surprise then that some girls are unable to continue going to school as they are forced into marriage.

Another huge challenge is the widespread practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). In one of our previous blog posts, ‘Education Removes Ignorance: Listening to Lekrumuni’ , our research team explored how students in Tanzania regarded education as an effective way of tackling issues concerning FGM and women’s rights. By promoting education, it is clear that we can make a real difference to the lives of women and girls across the world.

SDG 10 is also concerned with equality. Here, the UN aims to reduce inequality within and among countries. Although this may sound extremely ambitious, and probably something that needs to be worked on from a governmental level, international development charities like COCO can also help to promote this goal. Group smiling kids

Some of the main targets of SDG 10 include empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status, and ensuring equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action. Many of COCO’s overseas projects are in extremely remote areas, where long-held myths surround discriminatory practices, such as FGM. As a matter of practicality, remote communities are less likely to come into contact with new ideas or scientific advances which disprove stereotypes surrounding gender, sex and social roles.

Education gives girls and women a valuable resource. As noted in the previous blog post, one student summed this up neatly; “education tackles ignorance.” The work that COCO does in our overseas projects aims to create safe, inclusive learning environments to help provide a sustainable future.

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An update on the fantastic research our volunteers have been conducting in Tanzania, and a conversation about FGM education in Lekrumuni

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Having defeated Mount Kilimanjaro, six of our student trekkers decided to stick around in Tanzania to complete some voluntary placements. As COCO is committed to sustainable volunteering placements, the volunteers put the analytical skills the students had gained from late nights in the library to good use by performing some research on new and existing projects.

Not only will the data received help COCO to measure impact, but having volunteers in the country using such skills will build capacity of local communities so that in the longer run, this research can be performed directly.

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The first week of the volunteering placement was spent in Lekrumuni, a Maasai community sandwiched between Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. With such an impressive view, you would expect land in the village to be prime real estate, but in contrast the community has gone largely neglected with students having to walk approximately 13km to the nearest secondary school.

In response, COCO is planning to partner with the community to construct a secondary school within the village. The school will also be the only boarding school in the area, which will ensure that even those students living a long walk away will be able to attend school full of energy!

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The research consisted of health assessments of primary school students, interviews with members of the community and a group feedback session with ‘local’ secondary school students. The secondary school students were asked to shout out reasons why education was important, before discussing which of these reasons was the most key.Interestingly, it was decided that ‘education removes ignorance’ was the most important reason for education.

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FGM Education

This sentiment was echoed in our interviews with the community, in which the issues of polygamy and female genital mutilation (FGM) were frequent topics. Encouragingly, I spoke to one member of the community who had previously been a FGM surgeon, but had discontinued her work having received education, which had disproved the myths she believed about the practice.

The education was provided by an organisation called NAFGEM, who informed me that in spite of their success there had still been 12 reported instances of FGM in the village in the last year. The members of the community whom still supported the practice, tended to be in support because they were ill informed; citing reasons such as health benefits and a fear of their daughter struggling to find a husband. If a parent genuinely believes that it is of medical benefit for their daughter to go through the procedure, it’s easy to see why they would push ahead with it.

Whilst in the long term, the solution to the problem seems so simple, there are still girls here and now having their lives ruined due to misinformation. With this in mind, our partner organisation in Lekrumuni, Hope, has taken on a dedicated project coordinator for the secondary school to ensure that the school and the resultant benefits can be experienced as soon as possible.

By facilitating the younger generations to receive education, we can help to disprove the myths that fuel FGM, and the practice will die out.