We are failing our girls.

17,000 participants and 30,000 activists streamed into Beijing for the opening of the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995. 189 government representatives debated. It is only fair to say that the debates were sometimes heated. The conference took two weeks and as a result, all the countries adopted the famously referred as Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Declaration highlighted a “clear road map in achieving gender Equality”.

Hillary Clinton, who was then the First Lady of the United States of America delivered a speech in Beijing. She Said “We need to understand there is no one formula for how women should lead our lives. That is why we must respect the choices that each woman makes for herself and her family. Every woman deserves the chance to realize her own God-given potential. But we must recognize that women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected and protected”

I was reminded this week by one of our colleagues that before she becomes a woman she is a girl. A girl who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, this is not the case in most parts of the world. The Beijing declaration adopted 8 strategic objectives to support girls which included: Eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl-child, Eradicate violence against the girl-child, eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls, and eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training.

In Kenya, like many countries most girls are still facing challenges of early marriage, female genital mutilation and lack of access to quality education. Girls are still seen as “assets”. The narrative as always been. “You will get married and your husband will take care of you” While the 189 countries endorsed the Platform for Action, but today, no country has achieved gender equality

Women and girls who menstruate for instance are not allowed to cook for their families, some are forced to stay in isolated huts during menstruation. It is clear that men and boys are playing a key role in denying women and girls their basic rights. In a patriarchal society, the choices that men and boys make starting from family level have significant impact in the lives of women and girls.

Garden of Hope Foundation supports 500 girls annually from rural communities and urban slums. These girls are not only equipped with leadership and entrepreneurship, the mentorship sessions help them to make informed decisions.

As the world Celebrates International Day of the Girl Child under the theme ‘GirlForceUnscripted and Unstoppable‘ lets us join hands in celebrating achievements by, with and for girls since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and passage of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Victor Odhiambo

Founder and Executive Director

Garden of Hope Foundation