December 22

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Stories from the Small Continent- Improving the Lives of Girls

20151102_135059Dear friends, family and colleagues.

I am breathing a huge sigh of relief as the proposal I was working on almost around the clock for the last month was submitted a couple of hours ago, 8 minutes before deadline. I am now on Christmas holidays for just over a week, and, after a brief evening nap in the shade, will start the first leg of my journey home in the early hours of tomorrow morning. This time tomorrow I hope to be indulging in that popular Irish pastime of layering up before putting my face outside the door.

This was a particularly difficult proposal to put together and required long hours, huge input, and feedback from many quarters to get it over the line in time. It’s not the kind of pressure I’ve been subjected to previously and it’s been fiercely challenging but I enjoyed it nonetheless and found it hugely rewarding. The proposal was to a Korean Aid Agency who are funding projects in developing countries to improve the lives of girls around the world by their ensuring their right to education and health. We designed an integrated education and health project that would improve access to quality youth-friendly services in schools and health centres to girls in one of the most deprived regions of the country.

In Madagascar, more than one in three girls become pregnant before the age of 18. Since more than half the island’s population is under 20, the rising number of adolescent pregnancies is putting huge pressure on the country’s health care system. Increased education for girls leads to women marrying later and having fewer children. However, where girls are born into extreme poverty, they are often unable to continue at school and encouraged or forced into early marriages.

Although young pregnant women and their babies face greater risk, nearly two-thirds of young Malagasy women under age 20 deliver at home, many only with the assistance of a traditional birth attendant. In addition to bearing children at an early age, young women experience closely spaced pregnancies. Despite high levels of knowledge and low levels of opposition to its use, contraceptive use to delay, and/or space pregnancies remains persistently low among all young women. Less than 50% of girls transition from primary to lower secondary school, and less than half of these complete their secondary education. 60% of girls who are married, pregnant or have given birth are deprived of education, compared to 31% of the girls who are not married, pregnant or have not borne children.

Malagasy women and girls live in a traditionally male-dominated society, leaving them at great risk of human rights abuses and mistreatment. 14% of girls aged 15 to 19 have reported being victims of sexual violence and 15% have reported being victims of physical violence. The Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography has reported increases in sexual exploitation of children, including through prostitution and sex tourism, since the onset of the political crisis in Madagascar in 2009. Reporting rates are low and prosecution of the perpetrators of violence against children inadequate, as is the prevention of violence, and the provision of care and treatment for victims

I trust our proposal to improve the lives of girls in Madagascar will be successful but I will be finished my PULSE assignment before UNICEF hears back so all we can do for now is continue our work.

Happy holidays to all and many thanks for all your kind messages of support. They are much appreciated.

Joanne