The Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Julia Duncan Cassell says Liberians should bear in mind that sustainable development is unachievable when millions of girls around the world are not enrolled in school.
Minister Cassell said as a result of such a situation, girls are still being denied of their fundamental needs and rights, adding that girls are still prevalent of harmful attitudes and practices which include early marriage, Female Genital Mutilation or FGM, domestic abuse, rape and sexual exploitation, among other forms of discrimination.
Speaking Tuesday October 11, at the observance of 5th International Day of the Girl Child, held in the Centennial Pavilion on Ashmun Street, Monrovia Madam Cassell disclosed that 40 percent of 15 to19-year-old adolescents experienced physical violence by age 15, and 13 percent experienced sexual violence.
She said Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs will not be attainable if majority of Liberian girls continued to bear their first child before age 18 as a result of forced marriages or rape. She said such practices subject girls to teenage pregnancy, currently estimated at 31 percent with accompanying HIV and STDs risks.
The Gender Minister then called on Liberians to take actions toward advancing an integrated movement for the empowerment of girls across the country, which will lead to an enabling environment for the implementation of programs and policies to foster girls’ education, including compulsory primary education policy for teenage girls.
“Let us make it count by advocating for policy and laws that protect the girl child from every form of sexual and gender based violence and ensuring access to quality adolescent sexual and reproductive health services,” she added.
Madam Cassell stressed that it will be necessary for everyone to make a count by investing into education and health that will help to empower teenage girls and create economic conditions that lead to jobs, saying “Let us make it count by holding ourselves accountable to those international instruments and treaties on the rights of women, girls and children to which the country has acceded and be conformity with them.”
Also speaking at the ceremony, Montserrado County Senator Geraldine Doe Sherif said educating a girl automatically provides an opportunity for her entire family to also educate. She said the exemplary leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as a woman, should not in any way make girls to become complacent, but continue to move on with their dreams so that it will yield fruits in the future.
The Montserrado Senator congratulated Liberian women and girls for their brilliance and urged them to speak out so that they will be heard, not only at home but abroad. She has meanwhile stressed a need for government to create laws that will help to protect girls against early marriage, adding if these laws are properly put into place, they will also help to prevent these abuses.
At the same time, Nimba County District #8 Representative Larry Younquoi has noted that girl’s education still remains a challenge here, adding “Laws are easily made, but the implementation is what matters.”
He said in spite of challenges faced by girls in pursuing education, those of them (officials) in authority will remain persistent in championing laws on girl’s policy for implementation to strengthen women and girls.
Speaking to this paper in an interview in Monrovia, Rep. Younquoi said there is a need for men to protect girl child through elevation, and protecting them against discrimination and sexual abuse, among others.
The lawmaker said he was grateful to have left Nimba to form part of the observance of the International Day of the Girl Child in Monrovia, which is set aside to annually stress protection for women and girls.
“Girls should have confidence in themselves no matter in whatever they intend doing,” Younquoi emphasized. Rep. Younquoi said he reflected on his two girls children that God has blessed him with, and looking at what their colleagues did at the ceremony, he hopes that next celebration of the girl child will be extended to rural areas to enable girls there to get exposure and understand that they too are important in society.
By Zee Roberts-Editing by Jonathan Browne