One of the country’s youngest but brilliant, ingenious and result-oriented girls, who have been making headlines lately in the news, is the ambitious Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Pleasant Children’s Foundation, Marian Pleasant Kargbo. She was one of the participants at an African Union Conference where she eloquently and vociferously called for creation and making available more development space for children and women. Below was the moving speech she delivered:
Your Excellences, Honourable members present, our Ministers , the African Union Commission, Government of Nigeria, our great African champions present in this room I greet you all.
I am Marian Pleasant Kargbo, the CEO/Founder of Pleasant Children’s Foundation and President of the Youth Action Movement -Sierra Leone (YAMSL), the youth body of the Planned Parenthood Association of Sierra Leone (PPASL) which is a member of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). It will interest you to know that for the past years my engagements have been with Youth, women and children.
I have been asked the questions: “what do you think need to be done to enable the youth to make significant and tangible contributions towards the empowerment of women and girls. How can we involve men and boys in empowerment with specific reference to what obtains in the country?
Before I answer these questions let me start by saying the problem in Africa will not end if we refuse to pay attention to our youth who in turn can empower our women and girls. In Africa, 80% of the dirty jobs are being left for the youth to do then at the end of the day our leaders will turn around and say the youth are idle.
In answering the questions I will want to start with the empowerment process first and zero in to the involvement of men and boys. Let me start with Education, either formal or informal. For the youth to be able to empower women and girls they need to be educated because through education they can be informed about the issues of women and girls.
Let me make reference to my country Sierra Leone where we have a lot of youth, women and girls that are illiterate and such has placed them in positions where they cannot effectively participate and contribute in/to the empowerment process when they themselves are not empowered.
Nonetheless, we are hopeful because a Free Education initiative from nursery to senior secondary is currently under implementation although it has it challenges but I will say it is a step in the right direction.
With regards the health sector, it is sad to note that youth have not been provided adequate youth friendly spaces and services. These spaces are needed by youth so they in turn can be SRHR champions in order to be able to combat teenage pregnancy, early and forced marriage and infant and high child maternal mortality rates. In Sierra Leone we are still struggling with the adoption of CSE in our School curriculum and that’s true for most countries.
Youth should be engaged meaningfully at all levels of policy and decision making. By achieving that they will be able to add their voices and bring out the issues that are affecting women and girls. I live in a country where most times policies are being drafted by our big men (politicians).
In high level gathering involvement of the youth is key for any nation to develop. Organizations like IPPF centre over 50% of it representation on youth and women .
Also mechanisms should be established for youth participation and equitable representation at all levels. In my country one cannot run for presidency if you’ve not attain the age of 40 years ( Chapter 5 40(C) Act No.6 of 1991 Constitution).
As a young person I see such a law as discriminatory as it is discouraging young people to run for the Presidency. Not only in politics but in public life, in each community and society youth should be involved in the decision making process. In doing so ,they can be able to articulate their concerns and those of women and girls. If they are not represented how can they empower others? No wonder our youth are being used by politicians seeking the interests of their political parties rather than those affecting young people.
As I conclude on this first phase on what needs to be done to enable our youth to make significant and tangible contributions toward the empowerment of women and girls I want to suggest that we map out concrete measures that must be translated to improve youth ability to earn income beyond traditional occupations.
Lamentably, we’ve seen youth graduating with excellent degrees yet they are unable to get jobs and because of this most youth are frustrated, how can they serve as agents of empowerment? A hungry man is an angry man. Young people are facing various limitations in Africa. Let me move to the involvement of men and boys as I start. I want to tell mothers and fathers in this room and the world as a whole that a lot of training has been given to the girls but there is need to focus on the boys.
In my country domestic work is being left in the hands of the girls; we cook, launder, take care of our younger siblings and even wash the dishes whilst our brothers are on the field playing football. Please note that this attitude stays with them even after childhood, no wonder why now men heavily rely solely on their wives to do all the work at home. Please let them work, let them wash the dishes, clean the house, cook, launder etc. They won’t die .Teach them that!!! Boys and men should be taken along in this empowerment process.
Community clubs should be established comprising of both boys and girls. The boys should be engaged in awareness raising – they are most times left behind whilst they themselves are the perpetrators. We need to catch them young.Let’s put them in the spotlight. Let them develop action plans to support girls. Recreational activities in communities where men and women will come together and play together must be fostered. Positions of trust should not only be dominated by men , but there should be equal representation.
As I conclude, I want to recommend for the inclusion of youth in every sphere of decision making in our countries. Give us the platform and see if we cannot serve well. We are passionate, we are strong, we know the issues affecting us and so we want to deal with them for ourselves. Let us have opportunities like access to scholarship and jobs.
To the youth it is high time we come together and tell our leaders what we want as young people. In most cases we don’t even know what we want, no wonder we are always caught up in violence and riotous conduct. If we are to see a better Africa we need to set our priorities right and experience the change that we want to see. I say a big thank you and looking forward to timely implementation of these recommendations which should be included in our mapped out policies.