at the Forefront recognizes the systemic race and gender disparities that exist globally—ones that have only been exacerbated in the tumultuous past few years we have experienced. The heightened visibility of the Black Lives Matter and #SayHerName movement has catalysed long-overdue dialogue on race, gender and police brutality towards Black folks across the globe. Oftentimes spaces for dialogue drown out the voices of those most closely affected by the issues but, with BRIGHT's focus on Black girls from the US and Sub-Saharan Africa, we aim to give them an opportunity to spearhead the discussions they want to have on the issues they are most concerned about with peers and mentors alike.
In 2017, Georgetown School of Law published a groundbreaking study, Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls' Childhood, which applied statistical analysis to a national study of adults on their attitudes toward black girls and findings showed how adults view black girls as "more adult-like and less innocent than white girls"—this is the foundation of the adultification bias they face.
The video below illustrates further results found in Georgetown School of Law's follow-up study conducted in 2019. Using the findings from the original 2017 study, researchers put together various focus groups to assess whether what they originally found aligned with the lived experiences of black women and girls across the US. Researchers found that Black girls in the US face unique vulnerabilities due to adultification bias. Adultification is linked to harsher treatment and higher standards being set for black girls in school. Furthermore, negative stereotypes of black women as angry, aggressive and hypersexualized are projected onto black girls. Due to this, adults attempt to change black girls' behavior to be more passive. This can be seen in how educators and other authority figures treat black girls in developmentally inappropriate ways.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls face difficult choices to make in life. Africa is home to the highest burden of harmful traditional practices practices including child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). Fueled by deeply patriarchal social and cultural norms, wide gender equality gaps result in the early sexual debut of these young girls—thus compromising their health and overall well-being. As a result of these harmful norms coupled with structural poverty and weak infrastructure, the continent has the highest global rates of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, and maternal mortality. In a pre-COVID era, adolescent girls and women had limited access to sexual & reproductive health education and services—this has only been further exacerbated under the dire circumstances the girls and their families have been subjected to during the pandemic.
Despite the disruption to our regular lives for nearly a year now due to COVID-19, much of the world does not the shadow pandemic has ravaged the lives of adolescent girls whose life trajectory has been altered with school closures and stay-at-home orders. In this piece from NPR, we learn about how female genital mutilation (FGM) has surged across East and West Africa during the pandemic. Now, anti-FGM activists have stepped up their efforts to protect these girls by holding local leaders accountable for passing anti-FGM legislation.
In this Al Jazeera report, we learn about the issue in Sierra Leone where efforts to curb child marriage cases have been deterred due to the dire situation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. This stark representation of the pandemic's ripple effects shows how young girls are stripped of the agency to dictate their future. This, among other factors, is the driving force for our upcoming BRIGHT initiative. Since the past few years has seen heightened risk of gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, and mental health challenges exacerbated by COVID-19 isolation measures, we aim to provide platforms encouraging the young Black girls in the program to uplift their voices and strategize their own solutions to the growing challenges they face.