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UNFPA strengthens International Girl's Day with an eye on the digital world


The possibilities of new technologies in the empowerment of young people were at the heart of the International Day of the Girl, which the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) celebrated on 11 October. “Digital Generation. Our Generation”, this year's motto, is also one of the maxims that govern the lives of four Angolans who, at the Council of Christian Churches in Angola (CICA), learned that dreams have no limits.

Laurinda Santos, Director General of CICA Youth

Since childhood, Laurinda Santos dreamed of helping others, urging them to be better. “I always tell people: if you want light in your life, you have to get up to light the lamp; if they want to see change, they have to stand up and be the change they want to see”, says the 30-year-old CICA Youth Director-General. In eight years of work at the institution, she met “thousands of girls” lost in themselves. “The low self-esteem of many girls in Angola makes them hide from the world so as not to show the skills they have and how big and dreamy they are. Many girls still live inside a box, and unfortunately, it is not a box of dreams, but problems”, she illustrates.In Angola 37% of girls between 15 and 19 have already had their first pregnancy (IIMS,2014).

There is no magic formula to awaken them from lethargy, but the clinical psychologist agrees with UNFPA, that “the digital world can be a golden opportunity” in this mission of empowerment and fight for gender equality. “Digital can change their lives! All girls tend to use this type of platform to find out what is happening and to define their goals. We can use digital in a very positive way to transmit information and activities aimed at developing the full potential of each girl. In this way, we can rescue their dreams and self-esteem”.

Fernanda Henriques is a good example of these big dreams. The 18-year-old girl, a senior in Industrial Chemistry at Macarenco, wants to be a great entrepreneur, taking advantage of the experience she already has, which she will reinforce when she finishes the Digital Marketing and Sewing course she attends at CICA. “I sell women's items, clothing, shoes and accessories. My business is not entirely digital, but I take advantage of this medium to do marketing. I think the most effective way to promote our work is on social media because everyone is there.”

"We can and are able to do everything we dream of and have the Law."
Fernanda Henriques

Empowered, Fernanda Henriques knows very well what she wants and where she is going, but daily she learns that the path is often lonely. “My life outside CICA is a struggle, I face people who have not yet learned about gender equality”. Peremptory, she warns: “We cannot put a woman in a drawer and say: 'you can only get this far and you can only do that, because you are a woman'. We, women, have value, our rights must be recognized and we must be aware that several people fought before us, for what we believe. This means that we must continue to demand our rights. This is the meaning of International Girl's Day”.

In a broader context, Fernanda Henriques would like to have “a support network at the African level to prioritize the empowerment of women in entrepreneurship”. She is not alone in this dream. Marina dos Santos, a colleague in the Digital Marketing and Sewing course at CICA, also believes that the secret of integration “is the ability of women to come together and debate about what they would like to do with their lives”. “We need to get to know each other's experiences and then create a network that will help us open a business, take a course, grow not only professionally, but also physically and mentally,” she says. “Many women have ideas that they don't dare to express, but we have to learn that when we speak, we gain knowledge and broaden our minds,” says the 24-year-old nursing student.

Also on this path of “letting go of ideas”, the digital world can be fundamental, agrees with 17-year-old Abigail Calulo. But “you have to be careful”. “The internet brought me many problems, it surprisingly affected my mental health”, confesses the nursing student at the district of Cassenda, in Luanda. With the help of psychologists, she managed to overcome the difficulties, to the point of considering a future digital business in the area of ​​“humanitarian entrepreneurship” focused on children. Getting ready is critical, she warns her. “If I had had the tools to understand the digital world before entering it, I might not have had a negative impact. In fact, with the internet, I have solutions that I might not have otherwise. The important thing is to identify the misuse that people make of this tool”, considers the young woman, who regularly attends CICA's training activities. 

Laurinda Santos, with her CICA students. Marina dos Santos. Abigaíl Caculo and Fernanda Henriques