They are placed particularly in Goal Three which talks about good health and well being, Goal Four which is aimed at ensuring quality education for all and Goal Five which promotes gender equality.Since the announcement of the SDGs, various organisations and governments have focused on improving girls school enrolment rates, enhancing sexual and reproductive rights by increasing access to contraception and information and empowering women to stand up against gender-based violence.
It is against this background that the Takemi Programme in International Health at the Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health in the United States, in collaboration with the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, held a two–day symposium to assess the theme: "Girls in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) era: health, equity and education."
The symposium served as a dissemination platform for the Takemi Fellows from West Africa who undertook various research on youth development, sexuality, reproductive health and rights to present the results of their research recently.
Call for action
Speakers at the programme namely, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Prof. Benjamin Ozumba; a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies of the University of Ghana, Dr Deborah Atobrah, and Prof. Olivia Kwapong of the School of Continuing and Distance Education at the University of Ghana, highlighted the need for policy makers in Africa to implement and enforce policies and interventions that would enhance the girl child's health, equity and education.
According to the speakers, the health, equity and education of girls were of critical importance in eradicating extreme poverty on the continent, hence the need for policy makers to make it policy priority.
The underlying factors
Prof. Ozumba indicated that girls still had poor access to education, poor access to healthcare and inadequate knowledge of their reproductive health rights.
He added that issues of early marriages, female genital mutilation, among other core drivers of inequality entrenched in cultural narratives, persisted against girls.
Those problems, Prof. Ozumba said, showed that policy makers were not adequately implementing the right policies and interventions that would enhance the lives of the girls while removing all barriers.
He recommended the implementation of robust policies and interventions that would eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls.
He also recommended the effective implementation of universal education to eradicate extreme poverty on the continent.
Achieving the SDGs
Dr Atobrah noted that in the new global development agenda, the SDG impressed on countries to ensure gender equality, quality health care and promote access to quality education.
However, she said some girls were constrained in accessing quality healthcare, education and equity.
She noted for instance that before the ages of 18 years some girls were married off and they were most likely to drop out of school.
Dr Atobrah added that due to inadequate access to menstrual hygiene towels and facilities, girls absented themselves from school and even sometimes dropped out of school.
Teenage pregnancy, she said, also led those girls to drop out of school, while others faced serious health complications as a result of delivery at a younger age.
She, therefore, called on policy makers, governments and other stakeholders to double the efforts to ensure that the SDGs were achieved and the quality of lives of girls improved.
Review education system assessment
Prof. Kwapong expressed concern about the way assessment was done in the education sector, saying “instead of educating and empowering the people, the educational system rather failed them.”
"I believe our schools have failed us. We have institutional road blocks to achieving inclusive and equitable education for all and it includes the way we asses our students", she stated.
She called for a review of the way assessment was conducted on pupils and students so that students would not lose their self esteem.
Reorienting the health sector
An official of the Ministry of Health, Nii Ayite Coleman, said the current health systems in Ghana were not designed to support and meet the current changes, so the government was currently working on a new health document policy which would promote good health, well-being and equity, taking current demands and the needs of the people into consideration.