Data is the first step to solving a problem. It sets the scene, uncovers the discrepancies, and reveals clear gaps for focus. Conversely, when something is not counted it is easily ignored. The UN proposes that this is an underlying issue facing the 1.1 billion girls living today: they are not being counted and the absence of data limits our ability to uplift and empower them. This is why the 2016 International Day of the Girl has been themed “Girls’ Progress = Girls’ Goals: A Global Data Movement”, which aims to push this missing information to the forefront and highlights the need for accelerated data collection to fill the gap in knowledge of challenges girls and young women face.
Data is not only informative, but also illustrative. Consider South African girls in 2016: Our girls are being counted as new HIV infections (2000 per week)1, instead of as high school graduates. Our girls are being counted as pregnant (18% of 10-19 year olds)2, instead of as young achievers. Our girls are being counted as sexually abused (1 in 3)3, instead of as leaders. The focus of these numbers sets the context of the situation we need to work within to bring about meaningful change to the girls that are our future.
The Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF) works primarily to accelerate the research, treatment, training and prevention of HIV-
related disease and infections in Southern Africa; however, they retain a special focus on young women and adolescents. Six key
challenges have been identified for young women and girls, namely the high risk of HIV infection, teenage pregnancy, the high rate of school drop-outs, the absence of accessible adolescent-friendly health services, the presence of stigma and discrimination that prevents girls from accessing healthcare, and lastly the critical need to provide skills and support that aids girls in realizing their aspirations and dreams.
To combat this the DTHF runs multiple projects aimed at youth, particularly young women, in the Western Cape, which include the Masiphumelele Youth Centre, the Tutu Teen Truck, Tutu Tester, GirlPower, and other initiatives in partnership with Provincial and City Health. These programmes support an integrated and youth-friendly approach to the provision of health services. The DTHF also applauds the recent launch of the national young women and girls Campaign, which incorporates a special focus on bringing adolescent-friendly health and education services to young women and girls.
A key factor in keeping such programs successful and relevant is continuous monitoring and data collection that incorporates direct input from the young women and girls involved. Our girls need to be counted in order to see where we are and hold ourselves accountable for where we need to be.
- UNAIDS Gap Report, 2015
- Christofides, N. J. et al. Early adolescent pregnancy increases risk of incident HIV infection in the Eastern Cape, South Africa: a longitudinal study. J. Int. AIDS Soc. 17, (2014).
- Artz, L., Burton, P., Ward, C.L., Leoschut, L., Phyfer, J., Lloyd, S., Kassanjee, R., Mottee, C.L. (2016). Optimas Study South Africa: Sexual victimisation of children in South Africa. UBS Optimus Foundation.