As organizations from around the world come together to celebrate International Day of the Girl 2019, we wish to take this opportunity to draw attention to the work that remains to be done. On this occasion we’d like to share our initiative in Lao PDR, where we support girls towards building greater autonomy, despite the roles predefined by their society.
As the UN praises women for leading global movements on issues ranging from climate change to sexual and reproductive health rights to access to education to equal pay, NGOs and development organizations are lauding the girl child as an agent of change.While we know from experience here at Aide et Action, that education can change a girl’s life, we also know it’s not that simple. Often the future is already scripted and not in the hands of the marginalized individual but in the hands of the larger powers at play – community leaders, local authorities, policymakers, parents, teachers, governments, business owners and more.
In Southeast Asia, gender disparities are found in upper-secondary education where attendance rates for girls fall below 50% or less in both Cambodia and Lao PDR. Such disparity is directly linked to the entrenched norms that support the expected roles of each gender whereby unpaid domestic and care-work is given to women, and economically productive work is given to men. While increasing access to quality education is at the core of what we do, we’ve recently begun to consider and test other ways we might offer girls and young women the supplementary support they need to build alternative futures.
Acquiring new skills
In September 2019 we launched our Leadership and Entrepreneurship Camp for Young Women in Lao PDR, supported by the British Embassy Programme Fund. The camp is designed to be an empowering opportunity for ethnic women and girls aged 14 to 22 years old to gain skills and experience not found in a typical classroom. Currently, the camp is working in two villages – Nongpor village and Phonsavath village – home to primarily Hmong and Khmu ethnicities, with populations ranging between 600 and 6,000. These sites were selected as Hmong and Khmu ethnic groups demonstrate strong traditional gender role divisions and serious educational disadvantages. Unemployment and school dropout rates in these specific communities are high, particularly among lower-secondary girls who leave school to get married.
The Camp, which will run for nine months, offers participants mentorship in identifying, designing, and implementing a community-service oriented business start-up with their team members. The objective of the Camp is to equip the girls not only with business acumen and skills they desire but also with the courage and confidence to speak their minds and take on leadership roles in their communities. While many participants indicated that often their families did not want them to work, they expressed a desire to develop skills that could help them find jobs and to help their communities including accounting, business and trade skills, followed by English language and hospitality skills.
Create support networks for girls
Initial training sessions will be provided on identifying and assessing community needs and economic potential, business management and accounting, technical production and marketing, as well as other life skills. Already some of the girls have identified a market in their communities for Projects will be supported through a small grant scheme coupled with mentoring and support workshops. Each activity is also an opportunity to encourage dialogue on gender and inclusivity issues, share lessons learned, and foster support networks between participants.
Upon completion of the camp, we hope that the participants will have the skills and confidence to be more active citizens in their communities and to become role models for future generations, helping to dismantle societal expectations.