I had the opportunity to go into the field and observe some of the weekly group sessions being conducted with adolescent girls for the project I am working on. It is here where girls are taken through a health education and wealth creation curriculum.
These groups follow Population Council’s “Safe Spaces” model, whereby girls meet in the same small groups once-weekly under the guidance of an adult female mentor from the community. The health component includes education on a variety of topics, including hygiene, nutrition, sexual and reproductive health, communication and negotiation skills, gender norms, sexual and gender-based violence, and early marriage.
Upon sitting in during a few of these sessions, I was amazed at how confident and knowledgeable these young girls were. They role played difference scenarios involving how to report cases of violence, such as rape, and discussed what they would do if a parent tried to marry them off early. You have to remember that these girls were as young as 11 and no older than 14. For them to be so open about topics that can be considered quite culturally taboo was incredible to see.
After some of the sessions had finished, I spoke with a couple of the mentors and relayed these thoughts. I learned that the girls were not always this confident, this open. They spoke about some girls who took weeks to even speak a single word. And of others who were still reserved or failed to show up to the sessions regularly for whatever reason. But just from listening to these mentors, you could sense the pride they felt in knowing how far many of their girls had come; how proud they are to act as female role models in their community and advocate for these girls and their well-being. It was an incredible experience I am not likely to forget any time soon. And I think it speaks to the progress that has been made, but also to the work that is yet to be done.