“I just want to be a total independent girl, have my own income source. After this training, I will have a certain income for myself (sic)”, Sanu, age 21.
It’s easy for many of us in developed countries to forget that female financial independence is a deep privilege and safety net, one that billions of women around the world have never had the right or opportunity to pursue.
For Sanu, fighting the odds against her to become an entrepreneur highlights the impact that gender equality and education can have for the young women of our world.
Perhaps more than ever before, this year it is particularly important for the global community to pay close attention to the current future of our girls and how critical education is to their immediate and long term safety.
The fight to support young girls
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women around the world, in particular young girls who, due to school closures, restrictions and loss of family income, have left school and are at great risk of never returning.
In fact according to UNESCO, in March 2020, 89% of the world’s student population was estimated to be out of school.
This includes 743 million girls.
On top of these children who are not currently at school, a further 267 million young people are classified as NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training), of which two-thirds are young women.
Considering education is the bedrock of child safety, these stats are beyond concerning.
The pandemic has also increased sexual and domestic violence, home displacement, child marriage, child labour, unpaid domestic work and lack of basic health care.
Empowering girls to have visibility, voice and ongoing access to education is core to the International Day of the Girl, and this year young female leaders from around the world have come together to deliver three key demands.
Live free from gender-based violence, harmful practices, and HIV and AIDS
Learn new skills towards the futures they choose
Lead as a generation of activists accelerating social change
Considering the huge impact of the pandemic these demands are critical, and uplifting and empowering young females to share their stories and fight for their right to equal opportunity.
Empowering young women
As an organisation, BTO is incredibly proud to support and empower vulnerable young girls and women to forge a bright and strong future through education, healthcare and loving community support.
Sanu’s story exemplifies the astounding power that young women have when given the opportunity to learn and create a future for themselves.
In 2008 Sanu came to our Nepalese partner organisation Star Children who provide health care, education, homes and support for children and families affected by HIV.
Like many others in Nepal Sanu faced emotional and physical suffering and severe isolation from her community as a result of deeply ingrained cultural stigmatisation of HIV and aids.
At just nine years old Sanu had already endured much suffering, but with the support of a loving family home provided by Star Children and BTO, she flourished in school and became a leader to other children affected by HIV.
Sanu dreamt of becoming a seamstress.
When in 2019 she finished high school and was reunited with her sister, they began exploring ways to make this happen. However, in an all too familiar story, they struggled with limited resources to cover the cost of her training.
With the help of Star Children Sanu lodged a successful application to BTO to participate in the BTO Scholarship Project. The project is designed to support young adults to access and complete tertiary or trade training and is funded by generous donations from members of the BTO Community.
As part of her scholarship, Sanu was provided with an electric sewing machine and equipment as well as course training fees and expenses. The year-long course included comprehensive training in the design and manufacture of sewn products and provided Sanu with the tools and empowerment to create a new future for herself.
On completion of her training, Sanu secured a job with a local handicrafts company, however, COVID-19 shutdowns in early 2020 meant she was unable to travel to her workplace.
This is where the power of self-belief and drive that comes from empowering and supporting young girls becomes abundantly evident.
With her equipment, her drive and her resilience Sanu began making beautiful hand-sewn grafts to sell to the community.
Sanu is now completely independent. She found a home of her own, is on the journey of starting a business and has opened her own bank account to save for her future.
A future of her choosing that she would never have had without the opportunity to learn, to be loved and to receive the basic essential needs and health care that continues to be denied to young girls and women every day.
In a recent address to the “UN-WOMEN AT 10 YEARS” event, The Deputy Secretary-General of the UN Women highlighted the critical importance that supporting and empowering girls has not just for the girls themselves, but for the global developing community.
“I refer to SDG5 as the docking station of all the goals, because we know that realizing gender equality and women’s rights holds the greatest potential to eliminate poverty and hunger, achieve quality education for everyone and achieve all the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. This is even more important as we face the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.”
“In developing countries, girls who are out of school may never return, stunting their life chances and impeding the development of their communities and societies.
“At the same time, there is a pinprick of light in what have been difficult months. The pandemic is demonstrating the value of women’s leadership. Women leaders everywhere are showing that bold leadership, inclusion, diversity and equality bring benefits for all.” –UN Women Deputy Secretary-General, September 2020.
Now, more than ever it is imperative for us to rally around our young girls and women, to provide the support, the opportunities and the platforms they need to become self-sufficient and share their voice and their power, just like Sanu.
Do you want to help us lift up young women and create a new future for girls?
Sanu is just one of many girls that BTO support in partnership with local organisations in Nepal and Kenya. Without the ongoing and generous support of our community, we wouldn’t be able to provide these opportunities to create meaningful change for the lives of girls.
If you would like to help BTO and our partners continue to provide support for children and young girls you candonate here. Every little bit goes a long way to creating a brighter future for children.
Millions of children are at risk of never returning to school. And for vulnerable children in Nepal and Kenya education is more than learning, it's safety. We need your help to protect children's right to education and a safe future. Can you pitch in?