The truth is that girls' bodies are designed to grow and change shape throughout their formative years and it's natural and perfectly normal that they do so at different rates. So it's no wonder that the long-held standard in kids' fashion that a size 10 is ideal for a 10-year old is potentially damaging to one's self-esteem.
Menstruation is one of the leading causes of absenteeism among adolescent girls, with girls in Kenya missing an average of four days each month. Without access to accurate and essential health information, girls have limited understanding of how their bodies work. Femme International's study in Nairobi showed that 80 per cent of girls had no idea what menstruation was before their first period, leading to feelings of fear, confusion, and shame. A new smartphone game aims to change that.
It's not easy to be a girl here. And it's clear to me that it's not the strangers who are the biggest threat. It's poverty. It's the lack of good options. It's the prevalence of sexual violence, especially for Nepal's Dalit and Indigenous girls. And it's something else, too. It's the lack of programs for men and boys.
Roughly one billion women and girls worldwide -- almost 30 times the population of Canada -- suffer from malnutrition. This has catastrophic consequences not only for them and for their children, but for the world, as the loss of women's full potential hinders the social and economic development of entire countries.
To unleash the power of the adolescent girls is to create a world where girls are able to take advantage of any and every opportunity to come her way. It means to create a world where she not only has access to education, but also the freedom to attend school. Where she has reliable sources of nutrition-rich food and clean water, and doesn't have to risk sexual assault to collect it.
Nearly 90 per cent of girls tell Plan International that they have more opportunities in life than their mothers did. That's progress. But in developing countries, girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer malnutrition, and 63 million girls (many more than boys) don't attend school. Removing barriers to education, health care and other rights isn't enough. We need to focus on how girls can move beyond merely surviving, to thriving.
This phenomenon of taking children back to their native countries during the summer break to undergo female genital mutilation is called "vacation cutting." FGM is a horrendous, harmful and painful cultural practice that involves partial or total removal of a girl's genitalia, ostensibly as a rite of maturity but more clearly to control a girl's sexuality.
Every now and then, I hear someone say, "Oh, I just love it when kids dress themselves. It's so adorable!" When they say this, I know exactly what they are picturing -- a little girl wearing a fun combination of fashionable clothing, full of delightfully mismatched colours and unconventional pattern combinations.
Talking about sexual and reproductive health with students is always a little bit awkward, even in the best of situations! Having these discussions within a culture that often considers anything related to reproductive health to be taboo can be particularly challenging -- and incredibly important. In rural Tanzania, such topics are rarely discussed. The national curriculum includes the topics of menstruation and reproductive health, but these topics are frequently rushed through, or skipped altogether, by uncomfortable teachers in underfunded, overcrowded schools.
There's no question that sports can play a critical role in boosting girls' self-confidence and determination. Many of us have known the girl who claims to be "totally uncoordinated," only to score the winning point for her basketball team. Or the shy, uncertain child who had trouble speaking up in class and now kicks butt in karate. Here's a photo gallery of the transforming effect sports can have on girls, no matter where they live.
I've just entered the beginning of my 30s and there are quite a few things about life that I'm still confused by and haven't quite "figured out" yet. But there's one thing, without a doubt, that I feel I've managed to really figure out -- it's the type of girlfriends that I should work hard to keep in my life.