Helping girls aspire for more

Graphic banner titled Gender Staff Diaries

About two years ago, I was meeting a group of adolescent girls and boys in Aravan, a rural area in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan, to talk about their lives, their plans and visions for the future. Something that struck me was that girls were very keen on continuing education, learning new skills and building a professional career. They were very optimistic and energetic when we discussed what professions they would choose.

Adolescent girls were expected to marry early and serve the family.

However, when talking to community members, we saw that these aspirations were not supported. Adolescent girls were expected to marry early and serve the family, and the only work they could possibly be allowed to do was that of school teachers, which is almost exclusively female staff. Any other profession would be frowned upon as young women would have to work with male colleagues.

This picture of lively and motivated young girls was in my mind when I was putting together the proposal for STEM4Girls, a programme that began in 2019, focusing on empowering girls to pursue professional education and careers in STEM and beyond. In this programme, supported by Clé de Peau Beauté as part of the Skills4Girls portfolio, we work with women in business and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to match them with girls for mentorship and job-shadowing. The mentors support the girls in gaining experience, self-confidence and critical life skills required to succeed at work, including goal-setting, emotional intelligence, work ethic, communication, presentation, networking, and perseverance. Female mentors also act as role models for the girls, defying gender stereotypes with their personal example.

A lab in progress
© Centre for Protection of Children/DolotkeldievaMalika, 15, at a peer-training as part of the STEM4Girls project. She was able to get a job as a computer operator due to the skills she acquired through this programme.

When we started the initiative, the COVID-19 pandemic had already led to school closures in the country and forced a transition to remote learning. We had to quickly adapt and re-design some of its aspects to ensure we could continue working with peer trainer girls. We invited an IT training company to conduct digital skills training and changed the format of all our activities to online mode. Peer trainers are now conducting their sessions online, inspiring and sharing their knowledge and skills with tens of thousands of girls and boys in their communities. Despite the challenges created by the pandemic, we’ve noticed that these additional skills had an unplanned impact on girls’ lives.

For example, Malika, a very serious 15-year-old girl, had to persuade her parents to allow her participation in the project. She was expected to care for her younger siblings and engage in daily labour after school to earn some money for the family. She recently told us that she found a job as a computer operator with a local research company, which pays much better. She was very happy that she was able to get this job due to the skills she acquired through our programme.

These girls will uphold their rights and build a more progressive nation.

Other girls report that having advanced IT skills has brought them respect from their teachers and family. They are now so proud to be able to help their teachers conduct online classes, using tools such as Kahoot and Mentimeter.

These are the stories that inspire me and give me energy to continue doing my job with UNICEF. The best part is seeing the amazing transformation of girls as they progressively become more confident, open and proud of themselves, using new knowledge and skills. No doubt these girls will uphold their rights and build a more progressive nation.

My job at UNICEF is inseparable from my personal life. I also learn from the girls’ courage, their unique views, and openness to learn new skills and concepts. Insights from their discussions and suggestions on how to improve our work with their parents, caregivers, and communities, also give me new ideas in my parenting journey with my teenage girl and two boys.

This story is part of a series of field diaries from UNICEF staff focused on reimagining and delivering a gender equitable worldincluding living out the organization’s Five Actions for Gender Equality in the COVID-19 Response.

Jipara Turmamatova is Gender Programme Officer, UNICEF, Kyrgyzstan.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with “required.”