They are also our girls
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Lucila is a 8 years old girl who lives in a small house in the mountains of Ecuador, South America. She is fortunate, unlike other girls living in remote areas of the region, she can go to school to study even though this involves a walk of 2 hours every day to get to her classes.
Three days per week, Lucila goes to collect bottles of milk for her family (her father, mother and 10 brothers and sisters). But a few months ago, when she was coming back to home with the bottle of milk, Lucila fell over a stone while she was crossing a stream and the bottle of glass ended on her and cut off her stomach. Bleeding, the little girl walked 1 km to her home and neighbours helped her, improvising the construction of a stretcher to take her to the main road to an hour away and then, half an hour more to the nearest town. In the town hospital she was given medical care during one month.
After that month, Lucila had to return home and her routine: school in the morning, work in the sugar cane plantations with her father in the afternoon and help her mother with domestic tasks at night.
This story is real and reflects some of the difficulties that rural girls in South American countries can frequently find. Access to many basic rights such as education and health, it is often complicated and virtually absent in many cases.
Girls living in rural settings of our countries do not have equal access to opportunities compared to those living in urban communities. Poverty, child labor, lack of access to sexual education are not a rarity in rural areas.
Around the world, many of the estimated 100 million girls involved in child labour undertake similar types of work as boys, but often also endure additional hardships and face extra risks. According to Susan Bissell from UNICEF: “Many girls work in the same sort of agriculture and manufacturing jobs as boys do, but girls carry a higher burden by taking on long hours for unpaid household inside the home and working elsewhere (...) What the public does not see is the domestic work done in other households – this exposes young girls to other dangers and risks.”
Cultural and socioeconomic factors influence a family’s decision to send girls to school. Girls, especially as they reach puberty, may also be limited by other factors such as the safety of the journey to school or the lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities at schools.
They are also our girls, not only because they have the same rights, but also because many of the public policies from our countries do not reach the rural woman and girls. All women, no matter where, if rural or urban, are equally important for the development of our countries.
Photo: © UNICEF/NYHQ1992-0484/Jeremy Horner. Two Quechua girlfriends stand together in the town of Angamarca, in the province of Cotopaxi in Ecuador.