Breaking down Invisible Barriers for girls
Farah Ramzan Golant is CEO of Girl Effect, a nonprofit that builds girl-powered media brands that reframe the value of girls in society through magazines, girl groups, and TV programs that attract, connect, and empower girls and dismantle the social norms that hold them back.
Here at Girl Effect, we dedicate ourselves to empowering girls with the knowledge, skills, and self-belief they need to actively participate in constructing their own lives and futures. Through technology platforms and powerful mass culture brands, including magazines, music and radio shows, we connect with girls in their communities. The goal is tobuild their confidence, help them realize their potential, and change the way millions of people think, feel, and act toward them.
Our work is driven by our simple yet zealous belief that together we can create a new normal for girls. A new normal where girls are able to stay in school, get access to health services, and get married only if and when they choose; where they are supported by rather than dependent on their communities; where they are visible and vocal, as full participants in society.
When I was in Ethiopia last year, 15-year-old Abeba was my window into a common truth for far too many girls. Abeba is shy, yet stunningly determined. At her young age she had already faced three life-altering crises: she was raped at 13, had a daughter at 14, and dropped out of school to care for her child.
I asked her to draw a lifeline charting her highs and lows, looking back and looking forward. The line she drew ran mostly straight and grim across the page—no highs, no lows, despite her trials and traumas. Strikingly, Abeba saw no change in her future. It was a sombre view into her perception of herself, her life, and her prospects.
Seeing Abeba’s inner strength and resolve in spite of her circumstances reinforced my belief that we need to tackle the negative attitudes and beliefs that hold girls back. Today at Aspen we’re launching ‘Invisible Barriers,’ a new, short film that takes this revelation one step further, and sets the stage for Girl Effect’s unique approach to overcoming the very real barriers girls face.
Creating a New Normal
Historically, development work to transform girls’ lives has largely focused on the supply side—access to services such as clinics, schools, vaccinations, and financial literacy. This is vital work that has resulted in many stunning successes. However, we consistently see girls getting passed over or denied access to services they need.
Girl Effect starts from the other, less explored side of the equation: demand. Girls need their collective voices to be heard, loud and clear, at the community level—otherwise, no system will give them equal access. And before she can speak, she needs to believe that her words are worth hearing.
Building Solutions with Girls, for Girls
We build mass culture brands with and for girls that harness the power of media, mobile, and safe spaces to change the way girls are viewed and valued by their communities and themselves.
In Ethiopia and Rwanda—and soon in more countries—weuse radio, print, music, and chat shows, and digital platforms to reach girls and their brothers, mothers and fathers. Our culture brands give girls critical knowledge around issues such as safety and health. They inspire girls with role models, link them to services, and give them the confidence to demand that those services actually work for them.
We’re Already Seeing the Results.
In Rwanda, 75 percent of girls reading and listening to our Ni Nyampinga brand say it has made them realize their self-worth and confidence. Ni Nyampinga is an editorial and multimedia platform. And, 65 percent of all listeners—boys, girls and adults—say it has made them think differently about girls.
In Ethiopia the results are equally inspiring. Some 84 percent of girls following the Yegna radio drama say it has made them more confident. And 76 percent of girl listeners say it has inspired them to continue their education.
Boldly Leaping Forward
Creating a new normal for girls everywhere is an audacious goal. We have a long way to go. But the courage and resilience of girls like Abeba convince me that we are on the right path. All of Abeba’s efforts now focus on returning to school to make sure her little girl will enter a different reality. When I asked her to draw her daughter's lifeline, she politely declined. That picture, she declared, was for her daughter to create.