Addressing Inequalities: The Heart of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Future We Want for All Global Thematic Consultation

Manase Kudzai Chiweshe
Publication Date
September 1, 2012

From the abstract: "The paper uses Intersectionality Theory to understand the 'invisibility' of young women which is exacerbated by cultural traditions of low status, stigmatization, and gender stereotypes. Youths are not homogenise group with similar interests and problems. Girl youths have historically faced disadvantage in Africa even within programming because they are found at the intersection of age and gender which leaves them vulnerable to main things such as HIV infection....Many assume that information and services reach vulnerable female adolescents through urban, school, or youth-centred programs, yet evidence indicates that they are not being reached. Mainstream HIV prevention messages have little relevance to lives of highly vulnerable female adolescents because they assume that these adolescents exert some control over the timing and frequency of sexual encounters, use of condoms and HIV status of their partners, when they do not."

This research uses qualitative content analysis and secondary data to provide a nuanced analysis of the place of adolescent girls, 10 - 19 years of age, within African societies. It cites the exacerbation of "invisibility... by cultural traditions of low status, stigmatization, and gender stereotypes. These stereotypes are used to justify the nature of [girls'] work and livelihoods, their enforced seclusion and, at times, even their detention." In contrast, it gives the following example as a possibility: "if we manage to delay marriage, reduce work burdens and increase equality; we can increase chances to continue with education and help better their lives. Without removing structural obstacles that force adolescent girls to the margins we only promote a passage of poverty and disadvantage to the next generation."

The document notes that female adolescent experiences in Africa are shaped by an intersectionality of various factors such as education, employment status, class, age, physical condition, nationality, citizenship, race, and ethnicity. The oppression - described in the research - of these adolescents can occur due to any or all of these, and approaches must take them all into account to be effective. The following are excerpted recommendations:

"a) Age appropriate policies and programmes:

...Broad age categories are problematic in that they assume that a girl of 12 faces the same socio-cultural realities as a young woman of 17. Within adolescence we can have pre-adolescence (9 to 12 years), early adolescence (12 to 14 years), middle adolescence (14 to 16 years), and late adolescence (16 to 18 years). (UNFPA and Population Council 2006) Implementing an age-appropriate approach is thus necessary if we are to transform live of young girls...

b) Girls only spaces:

Promoting girls-only activities is a good way to increase participation, e.g. in youth centres. Girls only programmes focusing at the grassroots can provide for sports, health information, livelihoods programs, and social support. These spaces can give girls a chance to develop through female mentors, safety to play for the younger girls, and safety to learn for the older girls. Programs for vulnerable girls and young women can provide a place to gather regularly (at least weekly) to meet peers, consult with mentors, acquire skills, and deal with crises (threats of marriage, school leaving, forced sex, unresponsive partners and parents, HIV in the family). They can also be used to provide safe havens from trauma, stress, violence and abuse, where girls can develop friendship networks, learn about their rights, and become leaders."

From the conclusion:
"This paper has provided a portrait of adolescent girls’ experiences in Africa. It highlighted how young girls are located at the intersection of interlocked oppressions based on gender, age, class and race. Across the African continent girls find themselves in marginalised spaces at the periphery of policy and planning. The paper concludes that empowering adolescent girls spurs economic and social growth and leads to transformational change. It allows them to fulfill their potentials and become fully contributing members of society, helping to address the challenges that face their families, communities, and nations. And, it allows them to lead lives of dignity and respect as worthy members of the human family."

For Girls Only

The World We Want 2015 website, "Addressing Inequalities" Global Thematic Consultation, section on Children and Young People, February 4 2013. Image credit: AMREF