- We have a role to play and thank you for contributing to the strides that we contribute towards celebrating both the international Day of the girl child and commemoration of 16 Days of activism.
- Do we, technocrats, strive to share information and learn from girls about their everyday realities?
Our theme for Wasichana Wa Afrika Summit 2022 was Power! Unapologetically taking up Space with objectives, two of which I would like to highlight for this article:
● To provide a space for African girl leaders to speak to their unique realities when it comes to Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in their respective communities
● To provide a space for African girl leaders to speak to building a sustaining girl-led movement that addresses adolescent SGBV.
For the first objective, I would like to start by applauding every person who advocates for girls' rights in their capacity across all sectors; be it as a teacher, a nurse, a police officer, a program officer, a government official, an engineer, etc.
All of us, we have a role to play and thank you for contributing to the strides that we contribute towards celebrating both the international Day of the girl child and commemoration of 16 Days of activism.
As I followed the WWA session conversations across the days, I was challenged on this question: Do girls know of these strides? Do they feel seen, heard, and valued in all the interventions and policies we celebrate? Do we, technocrats, strive to share information and learn from girls about their everyday realities?
The summit looked into how various forms of violence inhibit girls from taking up space, sustaining their time in those spaces, and surpassing their potential while at it. One of the forms we highlighted was Sexual Gender Based Violence.
We were apprehensive to openly engage with adolescents on SGBV, but it felt necessary. What we did was focus on language and safeguarding.
Does the language use terms such as feeling uncomfortable and asking questions like what feeling safe means to you?
Having a Girl Inspiresession where we openly asked the girl leaders to share only what they felt comfortable sharing about it. But most importantly, how they mitigated that uncomfortable moment.
So no, we did not get into a learning course on what SGBV is, and no, we didn’t guide the discussions to focus on Rape or any apparent form that SGBV manifests in.
Yet we had girls openly sharing, regardless that it was on chat, keen to ask for help, keen to share even to lengths we felt uncomfortable reading it on a zoom chat.
“How can I convince my mother, who thinks I am sleeping with my father and does not believe me when I tell her that I am not?” asked Jasmine (not her real name).
That and many questions, some even statemates, as they shared their realities in such disheartening tones that, as a team, we were grateful to have had two of our counselors in the rooms across the days.
We would privately chat and prompt the girls to reach out to either of them to talk. Still, they continued to chat about their experiences on the platform, and we laterunderstood why.
They likely did not have avenues to speak out, and they were taking up space at the Wasichana Wa Afrika summit to do so; maybe some had and were dismissed or shunned when they did in their spaces, and there on that zoom call, they felt heard and seen.
The solidarity between girls from across the continent was apparent in how they encouraged each other, read through the messages, and found courage in each other to they too share their reality.
I outlined safeguarding earlier; yes, we knew that the conversation would be triggering for the girls and our team. Outside of putting trigger warnings, we were keen to offer psychosocial support during the summit, not only for the adolescents but for the team behind the scenes.
Another question for us is, as we encourage girls to speak out and invite them to sessions wherethey narrate and relive their traumas, do we just thank them and allow them to leave?
This is a reality we are conscious of now as Akili Dada more than ever, and I urge every girl ally to take note of it as well. We get to go back to our lives, but they go back home, or at times take a bathroom break and have to bring themselves back from that memory in tremors amidst tears.
Yes, they are survivors, and they are brave and on their healing journey but let us sensitize our communities against violence against girls and young women, not contribute to their regression in healing.
My call to action for us, not the government, not teachers but every girl ally out there, male or female, whatever hat you wear, even you Pastor/Priest/ Maalim, to create safe spaces for you to listen to girls routinely on any subject - Let them decide once in a while.
Often when we have a conversation with girls on any manifestation of SGBV, we take up alecturing role, and rightfully so, right? As enlightened adults, we are more likely to be exposed tothe SGBV terrible realities directly or indirectly and are just looking out for girls, but that is apreventive measure; what of survivors?
How can girls support their friends/sisters who are survivors? Unfortunately, adolescent girls are just as exposed to SGBV as we are, if not more.
Therefore, Friends invites girls to share their realities, needs, myths, and misconceptions about their Reproductive Rights. After that, intervene before you engage them, and do a riskassessment to ensure the girls are safe and feel better after that conversation.
Nina Wamboi is a girl’s rights advocate and a programs associate under the Urithi Program atAkili Dada, a Leadership Incubation hub for African girls and Women.
By Nina Wamboi