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From girl to woman

Published:Thursday | March 8, 2012 | 12:00 AM

by Glenda Simms

EACH YEAR, the United Nations reviews the evolving status of women in the global village and places emphasis on selecting a theme for International Women's Day. This chosen theme captures some of the issues that are still outstanding in the search for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

It is to this end that the theme 'connecting girls, inspiring futures' has been identified as a universal discussion point that has relevance to all societies.

The underlying assumption of the UN is that all governments and their related civil societies need to critique and change the patriarchal mindset that design the parameters in the development path of the girl child, because it is this girl who will become the woman of the future.

This simple fact has not eluded many writers, policymakers, and leaders of the State, Church, the corporate corridors of business and the managers of every institution which is designed to encourage the best aspects of human development.

A historic meeting

In 1995, many thousands of government leaders, bureaucrats, feminists, community activists and related actors in the struggle for women's liberation gathered in Beijing, China.

They were once again invited under the sponsorship of the United Nations to be present at another historical women's world conference.

As a privileged participant at this event, I recall vividly the anticipation of the message that Mrs Hillary Clinton, the then first lady of the United States of America, would share with the women of the world.

I can no longer recall what this powerful woman said to us but I am sure that her speech can be retrieved from the archives of the United Nations and the feminist library collection in the hallowed halls of the academy.

The speech which had the greatest impact on me was that which was delivered by John D. Wolfensohn, the then president of the World Bank. He told the women and men gathered in Beijing that his first trip as president of the Bank was to Mali in West Africa. He asserted that during his visit, a baby girl was born in the village of Koro Koro, and he shared with his audience the life chances of this girl child in the following assertions:

1 "Her chances of going to school are no better than 1 in 4."

2 "She will likely be stunted in her growth because of chronic malnutrition."

3 "Around the age of six she will probably suffer genital mutilation - brutally."

4 "She will probably marry at an early age, and face two decades of child-bearing."

5 "Her chances of dying during childbirth are terribly high - about 1 in 20."

6 "She will be expected to grow most of her family's food."

7 "She will be the last to sit down to the meal which she prepared."

8 "She will be responsible for educating and taking care of her children."

9 "She will have to walk miles a day to gather firewood and water."

10 "And if she subsequently works for a wage, she is likely to earn a third less for doing the same job as a man."

In 2012, some things might have changed for the girl in Koro Koro, but the United Nations is entreating the government of Mali, which is a signatory to the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to connect in positive ways with the girls of its society in order to inspire the future.

Here in Jamaica, we can take pride in the fact that girls are excelling in tertiary institutions and are present in many non-traditional areas of the contemporary economy.

In spite of this, we need to connect with our girls who are over-represented in the spread of the HIV, teenage pregnancy statistics, poverty-stricken households in both rural and urban centres, and who continue to be victims of rapes, carnal abuse and human trafficking.

The interventions needed to allow these girls to become women who will inspire the future must be identified and applied. We can wait no longer!

Glenda Simms is a gender expert and consultant. Send comments to