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11 October is the observance of International Day of the Girl Child. The observation supports more opportunity for girls and increases awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide based upon their gender. This inequality includes areas such as access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination, violence against women and forced child marriage. The celebration of the day also reflects the successful emergence of girls and young women as a distinct cohort in development policy, programming, campaigning and research.

While we commemorate the invaluable progress made in promoting gender equality over the last 25 years, the COVID-19 pandemic also reminds us of the existing inequalities and discrimination that girls face and their particular vulnerability in the context of this pandemic over recent months.

Ms Rethabile Sonibare (RS), the Co-Founder and Director with our implementing partner Molo Mhlaba in South Africa, shares some insights with Acronis Cyber Foundation (ACF).

(ACF): What are the most significant issues the girls in South Africa are facing now, from the impact of COVID-19?

(RS) The pandemic has forced poor school children to stay home for nearly five months which meant that teaching and learning are not taking place. Most girls were burdened with the reality of housework, looking after younger siblings who were also out of school and the real dangers of being sexually abused by older males.

(ACF) 2020’s theme is “My voice, our equal future.” How are some of the ways our school in South Africa is helping girls break the barriers?

(RS) We articulate the “A” for the arts through dance, music, and creative expression. The girls are taught to use their voice to express themselves and advocate for other girls to do the same. We strongly believe in justice and encourage that through our work and school curriculum. We honor women who’ve used their voices for the betterment of society. Our classrooms are named after Wangari Maathai, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Noni Jabavu, Charlotte Maxeke as a tribute to them but also an inspiration to the girls for them to also use their voices for a better future for all and the improvement of society.

(ACF) Why is iSTEAM curriculum important for girls?

(RS) Our iSTEAM curriculum ensures that we expose girls to areas of learning and jobs that they otherwise would not be exposed to. Children in poor communities do not have a range of role models in careers and so often they model themselves on celebrities and pop culture icons. By centering play-based learning embedded in professional career fields, we start to normalize sectors that have been historically dominated by males and therefore build the confidence of girls to enter those career paths.

(ACF) How are the girls celebrated for their unique sense of individuality, ambition, and intelligence?

(RS) We are a Montessori plus iSTEAM school, and so the combination allows us to learn every child’s capabilities, areas of growth (challenges) and their learning style. Learning in our school is about the individual child and how we can best support them to master tasks. We encourage a “can do” and “fail forward” attitude amongst the girls. Girls are encouraged to try everything and approach every task with openness. Every achievement is celebrated through song, high fives and or show and tell for the school community.

The school is projected to be completed in July 2021. Once completed, the campus will cater to 200 children, facilitated by 22 teachers and 10 support staff each day. It will have four classrooms for children aged 3-6, and 6-9, as well as a robotics and computer lab hall. The school will also provide a pastoral care program with an in-house social worker and educational psychologist, to help ensure the physical and emotional welfare of the students.

We hope this school can raise the next generation of women leaders who will navigate a variety of social and cultural contexts and remain committed to the development of South Africa! As empowered girls today and as the future leaders tomorrow, they will address this century’s biggest challenges.

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