The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for an improvement in quality of life for millions of people in developing countries. Specifically, they also call for supporting a group that encompasses just over half of the population: women. The UN aspires to “support the current and upcoming generation of adolescent girls, to truly fulfill their potential as key actors in achieving a sustainable and equitable world.”
As history has shown, when women do better, the society as a whole does better. As stated by the UN in their declaration of 2015, “if effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world.” The SDGs call for universal access to education, improved maternal health and gender equality to empower young females. World Bicycle Relief’s work aligns with the UN’s ethos for the investment in girls for a brighter future.
One of the United Nations’ premier goals is to ensure inclusive, quality education for all and to promote lifelong learning. As with most development issues, a push for universal education particularly impacts girls. Throughout much of Africa, girls face more barriers to completing their education. Girls are more likely forced to stay at home to do domestic chores. They also drop out of school due to childhood pregnancy. Yet getting girls educated is essential to raising the socio-economic status of their communities. Not only are there enormous benefits in completing one’s primary education, but girls who complete secondary education are six times less likely to marry as child-brides.
According to UNESCO, when girls receive an education their opportunities for employment are greater. They are also more likely to close the gender pay gap as well as less likely to become pregnant as teens. Their chances of mortality during childbirth are lower. These are just some of the many benefits of educating girls.
UNESCO’s data also highlights that in poorer areas, girls are even less likely than boys to go to school. Thus, the system perpetuates itself, as girls not getting an education makes them more likely to be poor for the rest of their lives, and girls in poor families are less likely to get an education to begin with. When we break this cycle, there will be long term benefits.
The biggest barrier to girls receiving a consistent education is often the physical act of getting to the school. According to UNICEF, girls between 5 and 14 years old spend 40% more time on domestic chores than boys of the same age. Tasked with many more unpaid responsibilities— including collecting water and firewood— girls fall behind because of the cultural obstacles they face. In rural regions of the world, girls also face challenging, long walks to get to school after their household duties. Girls arrive to school tired if they even arrive at all.
Over the past ten years, World Bicycle Relief has mobilized students, especially female students, who face long, difficult journeys to school. At World Bicycle Relief, we believe a simple, sturdy bicycle has the power to change lives. By giving a girl a way to get to school safely, you can empower her to stay in school and get her education, breaking the cycle of poverty with a bicycle.
As part of the third UN Sustainable Development Goal, countries around the world have committed to reducing maternal mortality and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services by 2030. Currently, funding and investment in reproductive healthcare for women is often overlooked even in the most wealthy nations in the world. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that there is still a critical need for improving health systems as well as focusing on the health needs of girls and women in developing countries.
This is a multifaceted issue. First off, girls becoming pregnant while still young raises the likelihood of the mother or baby dying during childbirth. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, “babies born to mothers under 20 years of age face a 50% higher risk of being stillborn or dying in the first few weeks versus those born to mothers aged 20-29.” They also report that childbirth is the second leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 in the world. To show how this disproportionately affects certain areas, 99% of global maternal deaths occur in developing countries and more than half of these maternal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa according to the World Health Organization.
With the wealth and technology we have in the 21st century, childbirth should not be the leading killer of young women. The issue in many rural communities, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, is the lack of access to health services before, during and after pregnancy. The low number of skilled healthcare workers is also an issue. Healthcare workers’ inability to reach patients in remote locations compounds the issue, as well.
When World Bicycle Relief met Royce, a volunteer healthcare worker in Zambia, she had to walk between rural villages to reach her patients. Because of how inefficient her travel was, she could only reach four patients in a day. With a bicycle, Royce was able to reach up to eighteen patients in a day. A relatively small investment, like a bicycle, can have a massive impact in spreading basic healthcare to populations who lack it.
Sustainable Development Goal #5 is one that touches on each of the previously mentioned ones: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls. To achieve this, countries are working to eliminate all forms of violence against women, end harmful practices such as child marriage and undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources such as land and property so they can thrive.
World Bicycle Relief believes that a bicycle is a tool for empowerment. For hardworking students, the addition of a bicycle in their lives empowers them to achieve greater success. Working with local communities, we take great care to mobilize students and families who need bicycles most: rural people challenged by distance and by the lack of transportation options. Local community leaders, who know the students facing the greatest mobility challenges, run the bicycle selection process.
We also take great care to ensure that property rights for the bicycles belong to the students themselves. We believe empowering a girl student includes bicycle ownership, and that bicycles can be equalizers. Students sign “study-to-own” contracts enforced by teachers and school administrators within our programs. Often girl students in our programs tell us that the bicycles are the first property of value that they have owned and that having ownership results in respect from others.
Finally, the bicycle is proving to be an important tool in the fight to protect girls from violence, early marriage and teen pregnancy. In Kenya, for example, our Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Program (BEEP) is helping to keep girls safe on their way to school while also reducing instances of dropping out due to pregnancy. The bicycle is also helping teen moms return to school to complete their education. It is these kinds of efforts that are going to help turn the Sustainable Development Goals into a reality for women and girls.
With Ambition & Bicycles
The Sustainable Development Goals represent ambition built on women’s progress. However, there is still much needed to ensure that women and girls around the world are able to move forward.
With the help of our supporters, World Bicycle Relief is making an investment in girls. We are confident that the power of the bicycle can play an influential role in progress for girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa and around the world.
There are no limitations to what a girl student desires to achieve with the extra time and energy a bicycle can afford her. Before and after school, she has time to study. With this strong and reliable vehicle, she also has the power to transport water, food, and pedestrians. In her spare time, she can dream and achieve. A bicycle is a tool for empowering and mobilizing her to follow her own path in life.