The Girl Double Effect

Jay Choi - Senegal


February 27, 2013

Senegalese girls are very strong—both physically and mentally. Every morning before school, my thirteen-year-old sister Saly does a good amount of chores—whether it be running errands for her mother to buy twenty cents’ worth of baguette and powdered milk from a boutique (shop) for my breakfast, or sweeping a dirt-covered cement porch to smoothness. She walks fifteen minutes to school, travels back home for lunch in a 90°F heat, heads back to school for afternoon study, and returns home. Not only is the trip itself physically demanding, but juggling schoolwork with housework is a tougher mental challenge. She’s occupied most afternoons babysitting her four-month-old sister Aissatou, doing laundry for her two-year-old brother Alou, fetching the family’s bathing water from the well, and helping her mother cook. She doesn’t have time to do homework until late at night, aided only by  candle light (my family has no light bulb in the house). As grim as Saly’s day may sound to many of us in the U.S., she leads a very satisfying life. In fact, she doesn’t seem to consider her domestic work as cumbersome as many of us would expect, but rather a near-joyful duty that enables her to socialize and distract herself from the boredom of the village life. And this attitude is not unique to Saly. In my village, it’s pretty easy to spot little girls—barely five or six years old—chasing after their sisters to the well with a tiny empty chocolate spread container on the head, eager to learn from their first water-fetching experience.

During our second Training Seminar in Dindefelo, Kedougou, fellows shared “A Day in the Life” stories of young girls and boys like Saly in their respective villages and towns in the Girl Effect session, which I had the honor to facilitate with three other Senegal GE champs. One fellow interviewed her Muslim sibling our age who is excelling in school, especially in English, despite all of her household and religious duties. Another fellow shared the typical day of a younger girl who goes to school in the morning and helps her mother with cooking and cleaning in the afternoon.

Senegalese girls’ positivity in spite of enormous workloads is truly impressive and venerable. It took a long time for me to comprehend the source of their happiness though, because throughout my Global Citizen Year training for girls’ empowerment, I envisioned this stereotypical girl floundering in the midst of overwhelming domestic work to be prevalent in my site.  It may be true in other parts of Africa or Senegal, but I realized it wasn’t the right picture for my family. I learned to draw the line between compassion and reality, which is crucial in identifying and solving a community’s actual needs. The Girl Effect movement is a light of hope for many impoverished girls and an indispensable imperative for alleviating poverty around the world. However, as with many top-down international development projects, slipshod work based on standardized idealism without leeway for local knowledge and localization will fail, which can jeopardize the much needed momentum for the movement to proceed in the future.

The Girl Effect alone is not a panacea for the world’s issues, though. Sometimes, a solution to one issue can worsen another existing problem. According to World Centric, seventeen percent of the world’s population consumes eighty percent of the world’s resources. For the Girl Effect to make a net-positive impact on the world, it should take into account the fact that the impoverished communities it is rescuing out of poverty is joining the resource-guzzling Western system, which is currently consuming four times as many world resources as it should need. Each girl educated will have less children, and invest more in each child’s education and health, increasing the demand for Western-style schools and hospitals. The demand for cars and flight destinations will rise, as more families are now able to afford Western-style road trips and vacations abroad. As a result, without steady breakthroughs, say, in the green technology sector to alleviate the increasing environmental pollution caused by the successes of the Girl Effect Movement, the Girl Effect will end up making a net-negative impact on the world. Although this scenario has yet to grow on a sizable scale, thoughts should be given to this probable development. Partnering up with another movement that could alleviate the Girl Effect’s footprints, such as an environmental one as mentioned, will transform the Girl Effect into a more sustainable movement in the future.

Jay Choi