Farah Ramzan Golan, CBE, is the CEO of Girl Effect, a creative non-profit organisation that has partnered with Gavi since 2016 to put girls at the forefront of efforts to increase uptake of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in developing countries.
In 2018, as a Gavi Champion, Farah will help raise awareness of the Alliance’s achievements in the build-up to its mid-term review (MTR) meeting in Abu Dhabi on 10-11 December.
Hosted by the United Arab Emirates, the MTR will take stock of Gavi’s progress towards its ambitious goal to immunise 300 million additional children by 2020, saving 5-6 million lives and securing economic benefits of US$ 80-100 billion globally.
It is universally accepted that supplying services such vaccines and education is vital for progress. It is less widely recognised that, on its own, this is often not enough.
While supplying these services is absolutely critical, negative attitudes and social norms often prevent girls from accessing them even though they’re available. For example, a father might not let his daughter visit a health clinic for a vaccination, if there is a stigma in their community that only sexually-active girls seek health services.
Girl Effect tackles this side of the equation: demand creation. Through our work, a girl can start to seek information and inspiration, to express herself and to build vital relationships. By including her community, we help her to grow the belief and support of those around her to champion her, so that she is empowered to seek out the things she needs.
We are a creative non-profit, bringing together a unique set of skills in media, mobile, brand, technology and international development. We build youth brands and mobile platforms that millions of girls and boys love and interact with: from apps that build skills, to TV dramas that explore vital issues and magazines written and distributed by girls.
Girl Effect seeks to grasp an unprecedented opportunity to create change by tapping into a new, global generation of youth quite unlike any preceding them. In our digitally transformed world, this is a generation who can be empowered to find their voice and value faster than ever thought possible.
Alongside the brands they fuel, creativity and storytelling lie at the heart of everything that we do. Together, they have the power to shift how a girl, and those around her, think, feel and behave towards her. Thanks to a robust measurement framework, we are able to demonstrate how our work is impacting millions of lives.
By changing hearts and minds and shifting the narrative around girls, positive, irreversible change can be created.
When I first joined Girl Effect in 2015, I took part in a ‘girl-led learning journey’ in Ethiopia. This involved spending a day living in the shoes of an Ethiopian girl – we’ll call her Abeba - talking to her, doing her chores, eating with her family and getting a glimpse into the reality of her everyday life.
Abeba was 15-years-old. She lived in a mud dwelling with her family and her one-year-old daughter. She had been out of school since she had given birth. Her father had passed away, her mother was too sick to work and her brothers supported the family.
At the end of my day with her, Abeba told me how she’d had the baby.
She’d been raped by a friend of her family’s, become pregnant and had the child.
But that’s not everything that Abeba told me. She also told me she was really good at maths and that she wanted to go back to school, so that she could give herself and her daughter a chance of a better life. So that she could learn, eventually work, and ensure that the horrible experience she went through didn’t become the defining feature of her life. She also told me that listening to Yegna’s radio drama, part of Girl Effect’s multi-media youth brand in Ethiopia, made her feel that she was not alone. The role models in the programme, the themes they explored and the situations they experienced had direct resonance for her. She said they gave her strength and the conviction that she could create a better life for herself and for her daughter.
Abeba’s story is about the immense resilience and hope that exist in the face of adversity. Abeba will not be defined as a victim. She’s funny, she’s smart and she’s brave. She’s a great mum. She’s good at maths. She wants a hand-up, not a hand-out.
That is what the work of Girl Effect is all about.
Killing more than 260,000 women every year, cervical cancer is a major threat to girls in developing countries. HPV infection is the main cause of cervical cancer globally. Without large-scale interventions to prevent and control the disease, the number of deaths is forecast to rise to 416,000 by 2035. Gavi has set an ambitious goal of helping countries vaccinate 40 million adolescent girls by 2020 through the introduction of HPV vaccine. Innovative communication strategies that build demand for the HPV vaccine are critical to reaching the target.
This is where Girl Effect’s work comes in. In a game-changing US$ 10 million partnership, we are working with Gavi to leverage the power of Girl Effect’s youth brands to build girls’ demand for the HPV vaccine and to empower girls to use health services at critical times in their lives. We want girls to grasp all the opportunities within their reach.
The four-year partnership was launched in 2016. Initially, Gavi and Girl Effect are working to understand better what girls and communities already know about cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine, as well as how they view girls’ access to health services more broadly. The approach will then leverage Girl Effect’s youth brands - magazines, radio shows, music and other communication channels - to increase girls’ knowledge, shifting both their own and their communities’ attitudes towards the HPV vaccine and other health services, and helping to increase uptake of the vaccine.
The partnership integrates robust monitoring and evaluation processes that not only track the impact of our youth brands on HPV vaccine uptake, but also assess the power of brands to drive wider positive health outcomes. It will rigorously measure the impact of Girl Effect’s contribution to social mobilisation for national HPV vaccination programmes in three African countries: Ethiopia, Malawi and Rwanda.
Our evidence-based approach will make the case for more holistic, girl-centred strategies to drive behavioural change and create new opportunities through integrated adolescent health models. Together, we aim to prove the impact of our innovation.
I mentioned that this partnership will make the case for more holistic strategies that drive behavioural change. At Girl Effect, we recognise that adolescent girls all over the world live complex lives. Their reality is inter-connected: the age at which a girl has her first child impacts how long she will stay in school; the time she spends in school impacts her future economic security; lack of financial resources impacts her health.
Girls don't think or act according to individual interventions. The issues they face, and the dreams they have, cut across every facet of their lives. Our holistic, empowering approach is an innovation that we hope countless others will adopt.
The European Development Days are an incredible platform to showcase this. We are proud to share a stage with Gavi and their progressive vision for the role that vaccines - and particularly HPV vaccines - play in the larger ecosystem of adolescent health.
My message is very simple: that girls can be empowered to become change-makers.
They are not, and should not be viewed as, passive recipients of the HPV vaccine, or indeed any form of intervention. Their active engagement is important not only for the continued impact of the HPV vaccine in preventing cervical cancer, nor simply for the success of a new vaccine’s introduction into the national immunisation schedule.
It is also important because a positive experience can set a girl up for a lifetime of health-seeking behaviours -- for herself, for her future children and for the generations that follow.
Girl Effect and Gavi team up to protect girls from cervical cancer
Girl Effect and Gavi have a ground-breaking partnership to protect girls from contracting cervical cancer in developing countries.
As part of this integrated partnership, Gavi is supporting countries in purchasing HPV vaccines, while Girl Effect will unlock demand by catalysing girls to demand immunisation against cervical cancer in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Malawi.
Girl Effect is doing this by leveraging its culture brands - brands rooted in local culture, and which reflect girls’ realities, their stories and the challenges they face every day.