MGEF’s Life Skills Workshops for Girls were created in response to the high dropout rate of teenage girls in Kenya’s Kajiado County. While attributable to many social, cultural, and economic factors, girls drop out of school primarily because:
- Their fathers decide to marry them off
- They get pregnant
Female circumcision also contributes to girls’ dropping out of school. HIV/AIDS has become another significant, increasing factor in recent years, as it has spread rapidly through the County, and girls are often required to drop out of school to take care of ailing parents and younger siblings. In addition, statistics indicate that girls between the ages of 15 to 24 are four to six times more likely to become infected with HIV than their male peers.
Adolescence is a period of transition, growth, exploration, and opportunities. It is also a time of heightened vulnerabilities. Adolescents typically are poorly informed about how to protect their sexual health. As a result, girls are susceptible to unwanted pregnancies and health risks associated with early pregnancy, unsafe abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases. Estimates for the number of girls undergoing FGM among the Maasai are as high as 90%.
Girls learn the life skills that can prevent teen pregnancy, reduce early marriages, defend against pressures for casual sex, and reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. They learn how a woman gets pregnant and the social skills to prevent teen pregnancy. They learn about female circumcision (FGM—female genital mutilation), about which they know nothing until they have undergone the procedure. Once circumcised, a Maasai girl considers herself a “woman,” and no longer a child who attends school. And they learn that FGM and marriage before the age of 16 are illegal in Kenya, and that some enlightened chiefs and the police will protect girls from both. The agenda will include discussion of child rights, the value of education, and an element to generate pride in being a girl. This is especially important in a culture where girls are valued only as an asset to be traded for economic gain and where deference to men (and boys) is mandated.