Part I. The first ever International Day of the Girl Child is here! How did Girl Guides of Canada –Guides du Canada (GGC) celebrate this special day online? By collecting and amplifying girls’ voices on our YouTube channel! Here are our girl Members introducing their favourite female singer that makes them feel confident, courageous and resourceful (the Girl Guide mission)!
Part II. The United Nations’ theme for the first-ever observance of the International Day of the Girl is “Ending Child Marriage.” Child marriage violates millions of girls’ rights, disrupts their education, jeopardizes their health, and denies them their childhood, limiting their opportunities and impacting all aspects of a girl’s life. Below is a review of Gavin Weston’s novel Harmattan, which explores this theme.
HARMATTAN n. A dry and dusty wind that blows from the Sahara across West Africa (probably from theArabic haram, a forbidden or accursed thing).
Harmattan is the story of Haoua, an 8-year-old girl from a remote village in Niger and how her life is transformed over the course of six years by a series of unfortunate, and in some cases, catastrophic events. The book highlights serious issues such as the HIV pandemic, political unrest, child marriage, female education and even the effectiveness of children’s aid sponsorship, all experienced through the eyes of this young girl, who despite her harrowing experiences has the same hopes and dreams as all young girls her age.
What’s most striking about this novel and Haoua’s story is that while she is forced to deal with problems and situations that are totally alien and unimaginable to many of us in Canada, she is still in many ways the same as any young girl. She enjoys the friendship of a best friend; she has to deal with bullies and the teasing of boys; she worships her older brother who is away in the army; and is excited about learning new things in school and through correspondence with her sponsorship family in Northern Ireland. Yet her life is not the same as ours or that of our girls. She must deal with her father’s gambling and womanizing, the political unrest that threatens the safety of her precious older brother and most significantly the consequences of her mother’s illness – which threatens and ultimately destroys her dream of an education and hastens the event that ultimately changes her life forever, marriage at the age of 12 to her father’s cousin, a man many years her senior. And all this happens despite the fact that she was perceived to be one of the lucky few that had a foreign sponsor family that provided for her and her family.
In reading this book I realized that my own knowledge of some of these issues and Niger in particular was lacking so I took the opportunity to do some research and the resulting picture is not a pretty one….
- Girls aged 15-19 who are currently married/in union (2000-2010) 59 %
- Girls aged 15-19 who think a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife
under certain circumstances (2002-2010) 68 %
- Girls attending primary school (2005-2010) 31%
- Girls attending secondary school (2005-2010) 9%
- Estimated number of people (all ages) living with HIV, 2009 61,000
Haoua’s story takes these statistics and breathes life into them, giving them a significance beyond mere numbers on a page, and this is the novel’ greatest success. As we celebrate and recognize the first ever International Day of the Girl, the story of Haoua and others like her need to be brought to light and recognized so that we can all work towards ensuring that all girls have equal opportunities to succeed in life. Haoua’s last poignant and resilient words stand as a testimony to what girls could potentially achieve given the opportunity:
Still, I dare to dream that one day, just like Monsieur Boubicar I will stand proudly in front of a classroom full of children, and teach them many things, and that the spirits of my mother, my grandmother and my brother will draw near me and smile.
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