Brunch

International Day of the Girl Child: Room to Read on empowering the next generation of girls 

11 October marks the International Day of the Girl Child as established by Resolution 66/170 of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2011, and in celebration, this week Brunch decided to take a peek at the work done by “Room to Read”, an organisation that has done heaps for the development and nourishment of young women all over the world and has addressed the unique challenges faced by them on a daily basis. 

Despite being a developing country, Sri Lanka is recognised for having a gender-balanced education system in which both girls and boys have equal access to education. As a result, according to the Ministry of Higher Education, approximately 60% of girl students qualify to go to university as opposed to a mere 39% of boys; a positive indicator that demonstrates that girls in Sri Lanka fare better in school education. 

However, according to World Bank data, it was reported that Sri Lanka’s female representation in its labour market was only 34% in 2019, a staggeringly low percentage when compared to how many girl students become eligible to go to university. While social norms and traditional beliefs may affect female participation in the labour market, one of the most striking factors, according to experts, is the lack of the skills that are required for women to sustain and progress in the labour force in Sri Lanka. 

Room to Read Sri Lanka Country Director Shevanthi Jayasuriya

To learn more about how we can improve the skill set of girls and to better understand the importance of education amongst young women, Brunch reached out to the team at Room to Read, who have worked towards gender equality through quality education for over 20 years. 

Since being founded in 2000 Room to Read has done quite a lot for the community. Following the closure of schools after the Covid -19 pandemic alone, Room to Read delivered over 185,470 direct messages to its programme participants to help them stay academically active at home while learning life skills and financial literacy. In addition, more than 57,000 worksheets of life skills lessons were also distributed among programme participants so that students who do not have access to smartphones or sufficient internet connections, can still continue to learn from home. In addition, their “Social Mobilisers” (local mentors) call programme participants biweekly over the phone to ensure they have a safe learning environment at home and support them academically as well as with mental health issues. Room to Read also partnered with Guru TV and Rajarata and Kandurata FM to broadcast nearly 200 life skill and financial literacy lessons to help children across Sri Lanka learn life skills.

Room to Read Sri Lanka Country Director Shevanthi Jayasuriya shared that when we invest in girls’ education “we empower girls with education and life skills and they pass it on to their children, their community, and empower another generation. It also helps them to find skilled jobs and take on leadership roles, so women’s problems are better heard and addressed”.

The Room to Read Girls’ Education Programme was founded with the belief that educated women can change the world. It reinforces girls’ commitment to their own education and aims for systemic change for decades to last, scaling them to a country’s need. The programme is conducted in collaboration with government officials at the local, regional, and national levels to promote girl-friendly learning environments and develop essential life skills, financial education, and increase support for girls’ education among their parents, school staff, and communities. 

So far, Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Programme has transformed nearly 5,000 girls’ lives in vulnerable communities, working through the pandemic along with their other initiatives to ensure educational development in this most challenging of times. “Room to Read’s presence in vulnerable communities became even more prevalent after Covid-19 school closures,” Jayasuriya said, adding: “When schools close, children in these communities have no access to their teachers or quality education. We immediately began to address the issue by distributing print study material, broadcasting lessons via radio and TV, and using digital platforms to provide learning content to ensure that these children continue to have access to education despite school closures. The additional support given by our Social Mobilisers means that girl students have a safe learning environment at home, they receive both academic and psychological support, and they don’t drop out of school for early marriages or to support their families by engaging in unskilled labour.” 

For more information on Room To Read and its programmes, please visit www.roomtoread.org.