Young women can change their situation

by Gabriella Heller, Hungary

I am sitting close to a campfire with a bunch of girls, singing cheerfully, at the end of a summer camp. You might recognize me from my scarf – yes, you are right, I am a Girl Guide.

I am part of the Girl Guide and Girl Scout Movement which unites 10 million girls and young women around the globe, which is dedicated to the education of these girls, to enable them to develop and experience their fullest potential and become responsible citizens of our world.

A wonderful mission – the problem is that not every girl has the chance to be part of it.

Girls who are trafficked across the borders; girls who face armed men in front of their doors in a town being in war; 60 million girls forced into marriage every year, who may become mothers although their body is not entirely developed and their mind might not be ready for the noble duty; girls being sick due to the lack of clean water; girls being infected with HIV/AIDS, hardly having the opportunity to focus on their personal development, since their existence and basic needs are questioned.

I belong to the lucky ones to those who are born to a safe place – the cosy European state, Hungary – belonging to a safe family and able to live a holistic life.

From a bird view Hungary is an idyllic country without war, with a sufficient economic and social security background and with low mother and child mortality rates. Nevertheless, this does not mean that none of the children or mothers dying could have been saved.

Statistics show that the number of preterm births has increased in Hungary, and this is the major cause of death of newborn babies. The roots of increased risks of preterm birth are associated with unhealthy lifestyles of mothers, stress, alcohol, smoking and infections.

According to unofficial estimates, 14,000 girls under the age of 19 give birth per year, and pregnancies are terminated by adolescent girls in a similar volume.

Adolescent girls who become pregnant at an early age usually only have primary education, and motherhood prevents them from further education which in turn results in lower family income. In addition, we cannot forget the health risks and psychological challenges that girls face in cases of adolescent pregnancy.

Apart from these, unfortunately we can list further phenomena that endanger the proper development of children in Hungary. At present, the poverty ratio is higher at childhood than later in life. When primary needs are not met, it negatively influences not only the early years of life but has long-term effects as well.

Violence is also part of our society. Many children and women suffer from violent actions by relatives and partners. This mostly remains hidden in their homes.

Violence is present in public life too – at schools, at workplaces, and in the forms of prostitution and trafficking. Hungary has become the seventh major country of origin in terms of trafficking within Europe, with a high percentage involvement of adolescent girls. The current legislative framework is insufficient to tackle these problems and help the victims.

Not only victims

We should mention, however, that girls and women are not only victims. They are engaged in many initiatives to change their situation.

I remember the moments I spent at schools with my Girl Guide unit talking to other teenagers on sexually transmitted diseases and distributing condoms as part of a three-year long awareness-raising campaign focusing on HIV/AIDS and adolescent pregnancy.

We have also started a series of workshops focusing on self-esteem, healthy relationships and sexual health and rights, reaching out not only to our members but to girls and young women outside the Movement as well.

These small, local actions have taken place in Hungary – but imagine the power of 10 million girls and young in women in 145 countries. Girls and young women can reach change within their communities.

The most recent WAGGGS programmes that focus on health of girls and women encompass badge-based education curricula relating to HIV/AIDS and other deathly diseases, and gender equality. A new World Thinking Day badge curriculum on child and maternal health will be published later this year.

Girl Guides and Girl Scouts also recently launched a global campaign calling for an end to violence against girls and young women, called Stop the Violence.

Within the frames of such programmes, thousands of local projects will be implemented worldwide to save lives that could be saved – since we all know that “every mother’s life and health is precious” and “together we can save children’s lives”.

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