The Girl Effect

Have you seen it yet? The second video from the Girl Effect? If you haven’t, watch it, and then finish reading this post.

The Girl Effect talks about how the answer to so many questions surrounding how to combat global, cyclical poverty is in the hands of a girl. A girl with food. A girl with a supportive home. A girl with an education. A girl who is not married, with a child, and possibly selling her body to make ends meet by the time she turns 18, but is instead heading off to university. And I’m particularly fond of the Girl Effect’s big picture way of thinking and gift for taking statistics and making them into lovely three minute videos that garner so much attention. And I’m a big fan of investing in girls’ education locally and overseas. (It’s one of the many reasons I support OHMH in my spare time.)

What happens next though? We finally have a Global Health Initiative with a “woman-centered approach,” but nearly two years after its introduction to the public, all we seem to have to show for it is a list of the eight GHI-plus countries. Notably, these countries will not receive extra money; they will simply receive extra technical assistance to push them towards the targets the USG is bent on achieving. The positions for Assistant Administrator for Global Health and AA for Africa have yet to be filled, and Raj Shah seems to be captaining a ship lacking a good amount of its crew. Check out CDG’s USAID Staffer Tracker if you want to stay up to date on when (if ever, it seems) these positions get filled.

I admire the goals and targets (at least the ones they actually quantify and discuss, or should when an evaluation plan is developed). And I admire the talk about the importance of having a woman-centered approach. And I even admire the anecdotal outcomes highlighted in so many press releases, reports to Congress, and other official documents: we always have to share the happy stories. I also acknowledge how difficult it is to change a system, a culture, and a deep-rooted poverty that many of us cannot understand, even if we’ve visited or lived in the most impoverished of areas in a developing country. We always (or at least usually) know that at the end of the month/year/contract we can go home.

J., over at Tales from the Hood, wrote a poignant piece highlighting how things are happening in conference rooms and over pricey dinners rather than around a fire with a plate of ugali more and more, and how we who work in aid are privileged in our own way. We have the education to do this work, first and foremost, and have our basic needs met. Even if we have to “retire at 103,” as J. mentions.

So about that woman-centered approach to development, the GHI, and all of the exciting press releases and transcripts of speeches that came out of the Clinton Global Initiative and MDG Summit talks last week…I’ll look forward to hearing the success stories, and anticipate the data showing that it wasn’t only a few women who benefited. And, perhaps even more importantly, I’ll look forward to seeing the plans even put into action in the first place and move beyond rhetoric. I respect that laying the groundwork for this takes time, but to have so many important posts still unfilled at USAID and such limited information about how this initiative is being put into action? Well, that just seems a bit embarrassing.

And in the meantime, while I wait for all of those exciting results, I’ll keep working on a grassroots project in my spare time that lives up to these same principles espoused by these lovely plans.

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