Sharon D'Agostino is vice president of corporate citizenship at Johnson & Johnson, working with senior leaders to drive the company's citizenship and sustainability strategy. She is a global health advocate and a prolific, passionate blogger on the issues that impact the lives of girls, women and children.
It was a hot, sunny day in December 2010 when I met an amazing group of girls in a village outside Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. My colleagues and I have the honour and good fortune of meeting many girls and women in the work we do, but something about that day and those girls profoundly inspired me.
Looking at my amateurish photos, I see faces full of hope and possibility. The lives of these girls were being transformed because they had access to education through a programme with one of our partners, FHI360, that Johnson & Johnson began supporting seven years ago.
Among other benefits, education for adolescent girls leads to employment, economic independence and confidence. Investment and support from corporations can help to ensure that a girl's hope for education and independence can be realised. This leads to benefits not only for her, but also for her family, her community and even her country.
More than just statistics
Girls in Tanzania and many other countries face challenges before they can get to school. In some cases, parents must be convinced that education is an important opportunity for their daughters as well as for their sons. And once parents agree, the cost of school fees, books, and uniforms become barriers, along with the fact that if daughters are in school, they have less time to collect water or firewood and less time to care for younger siblings.
For girls in families in which one or both parents have died, there can be increased pressure from guardians for early marriage rather than continuing school. In the programme site we visited, we met girls whose families had overcome these challenges.
Through speeches, songs, dances and conversations, the girls covered topics about which there is much data - self-esteem and confidence, prevention of the spread of HIV/Aids, avoiding early marriage and early pregnancy. But their stories were not about statistics; they were about their lives, their hopes and their aspirations.
We learned many important lessons from this programme, the biggest of which was what school meant for the girls we met - not the future impact of their education, but the effect on their day-to-day lives. This past October, in celebration of International Day of the Girl a friend and colleague, Conrad Person, wrote this beautiful piece after another visit to the programme.
Women Deliver report
Everyone has something to offer when it comes to making a big difference for girls. Women Deliver has just issued a new and compelling report, Invest in Girls and Women: EVERYBODY WINS, during the UN's 58th Commission for the Status of Women. It's a concise document that outlines how partners can advocate for girls in the best way possible. Whether you are acting on your own or on behalf of your business, here are some things you can do:
- Read, sign and share the Girl Declaration - and for additional inspiration, watch the video in which girls around the world proclaim its tenets.
- Really listen to the voices of the girls and women who deal with gender inequality every day, and understand their perspectives on how to engage men and boys in the way forward.
- Identify a local organisation that supports girls and women and reach out to share your time, your expertise, your money or whatever you are inspired to share.
- Visit Catapult to support programmes that focus on empowering girls and women.
- Add your voice to the discussion and engage in identifying and implementing solutions that can make lasting change in the lives of girls, women and families.
Ask any adolescent girl and she will tell you that if you help her now, she will go on to change the world tomorrow. I believe her.