Today, nations around the world are commemorating the International Day of the Girl Child. This year, we mark the occasion in the shadow of COVID-19, an unprecedented crisis for lives and livelihoods.
The pandemic continues to have a disproportionate effect on the futures and fortunes of young girls, and is worsening the already unacceptable social inequalities that prevail against them.
Some 47 million girls worldwide have been pushed into poverty by the economic impacts of COVID- 19. But worse still, their risks of sexual and physical violence appear to have intensified since the start of the pandemic. Ghanaian girls have not been spared from these hardships. This is why the theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child demands our attention: “My Voice, Our Equal Future”.
We celebrate efforts led by girls in Ghana and around the world to demand action on some of their most critical aspirations. They want to live free from gender-based violence, harmful and outmoded cultural practices, and the risks of HIV and AIDS.
They want opportunities to learn new skills towards the futures they choose for themselves. They want greater representation and participation in decision- making in order to champion and accelerate the social change they seek.
Here in Ghana, we must not fail them. The time is now for a national conversation about why girls continue to face these barriers to their progress. We must reflect on the promise of equal opportunity at all levels of education for Ghanaian girls, and how obstacles like period poverty deny them that. We must acknowledge the pervasive risks of sexual and physical violence that Ghanaian girls face at school, in their communities, and even in their own homes.
We must acknowledge how outmoded social norms limit options for young girls, how harmful cultural practices protect sexual predators at the expense of the victims, and how our justice system often fails girls too.
John and I are committed to confronting these issues head on.
This is what informs the commitments of The People’s Manifesto to Ghanaian girls, an agenda for opportunity, equality and inclusion.
We will pass into law the Affirmative Action Bill. We will execute our plan to provide free sanitary pads to girls in basic schools, and invest in infrastructure and teacher training to improve quality and access at that level of education. We will propose a bill to address sexual harassment in schools and elsewhere; we will operationalize support and protection programs for victims of domestic violence; and we will eliminate medical exam fees for survivors of sexual assault.
These are not political promises, but rather moral obligations. Let us not fall short in these commitments to Ghanaian girls, as that is itself a measure of our national character.