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We will try to include an article about a non-profit organization in each edition of the PWI Magazine (we had one in the Spring edition). This is a way to build a bridge between the profit and non-profit worlds and share best practices.
Action for Girls: “When we support the rights of girls, we create a better world for everyone”
An interview by Alessandra Zocca
Ms. Karen Schroh, Head of EU Office at Plan International
In PWI we foster the professional progress of women, but we cannot ignore the "little women” that have little or no chance to realise themselves.
Please tell me more about the PLAN campaign "Because I am a girl", it touches me very much.
Ms. Schroh – The goal of the campaign is basically to help millions of girls realize their full potential. How? By raising money for programmes that benefit girls, but also by doing advocacy to raise awareness.
All know the problems girls face: girls around the world still suffer from the double discrimination of being young and being female *(please see the Appendix below). They are more prone to being victims of violence, they suffer from malnutrition more frequently than boys, and they get pulled out of school earlier. When you look at why girls aren’t in school, part of it has to do with stereotypes in their countries – such as “boys are more important” - part of it has to do with the violence in schools that keeps girls out. One of the main reason why girls are dropping out is early and forced marriage, 15.000 girls a day under the age of eighteen are married according to their traditions. Enforced marriage is very common, for instance based on a study in Zambia and our talks to local communities by 15 years old 75 % of girls are married and by 18 years old 100% of all people are married. We asked these young people whether they regretted being married so young and 99% of them – both girls and boys – regretted having being married so early.
We know that around the world the biggest killer of girls between 11 and 15 years old is pregnancy, about 70.0000 girls between 15 and 19 years old die annually as a result of complications during pregnancy or childbirth.
The point is that it’s not just that girls have rights that have been abused and we want to protect them, but investing in girls is a smart investment, because it contributes to solving the root causes: investing in girls and young women has a disproportionately beneficial effect in alleviating poverty for everyone; not only the girls themselves but their families, communities and entire countries. Everyone benefits, including boys and men.
We also know that by investing in girls we will help future generations: for instance: children of women who completed primary school are 40% less likely to die before the age of five, and when a girl receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.5 fewer children.
We want to get more girls into school; we know that if a girl is educated, she will earn more income and spend that money on her children, there are so many reasons why we know that education is really the key. Therefore, we want to focus on girls’ education, primary and secondary. Additionally girls need to gain negotiation, finance and economic skills, to build self-confidence to help them make the transition from being a school pupil into joining the workforce and succeeding in life; these are also issues we are taking care of.
You should see, Alessandra, girls are so excited about these programmes that they tell other girls, they are so happy when they know they have the right to stay in school and they are not supposed to get married! We have stories about girls showing great solidarity, for instance when a girl disappears from school in Bangladesh, all the other girls go and get her birth certificate to prove she is too young to be married and they go to the mayor and convince him to order her back into school.
Can you please introduce Plan and highlight the differences compared to other similar NGOs?
Ms. Schroh – Plan is one of the largest children’s rights organizations. We work in 60 countries around the world and in Europe we are in 10 countries.
Our vision is of a world in which all children realize their full potential in societies that respect people’s rights and dignity. Alessandra, just consider that one third of the world’s population are children.
We work primarily through children’s sponsorship, meaning that people sponsor a child; in Europe we have about 700.000 sponsors supporting the organization. We work on health and education, water and sanitation, on sexual/ reproductive health and HIV prevention/care and of course child rights.
We work at the community level, it is a child-centred development approach, in which children, families and communities are active and leading participants in their own development. This approach is based on six principles:
1. Our programmes focus on children because they are disproportionately affected by poverty, abuse and exploitation.
2. Our programmes are guided by international human rights principles and regional conventions.
3. We work for, and on behalf of, children in order to enable them to claim their rights. We also support those with a duty towards children to deliver on their obligations, and hold these duty bearers to account.
4. Our programmes promote an environment of social inclusion, and protect children from discrimination, particularly children living in extreme poverty, children with disabilities and those from isolated communities.
5. Our programmes promote gender equality. Gender-based discrimination within society undermines individuals’ power to create change.
6. Our programmes maximise the free and meaningful participation of children in the decisions that affect their lives, bearing in mind their evolving capacity to understand and contribute.
We go to villages/communities for long periods (20-25 years) working with local partners and we seek to identify children’s priorities, to prioritize the most critical issues, it could be water sanitation or education or health. We give them money to realize their objectives and we lobby government to do what they are supposed to be doing.
What makes us different from other NGOs is that we are much more child centred, so children are at the centre of everything we do. In the communities where we operate children are about 50% to 75% of the people living there, so we talk to them, others don’t, because child participation is one of the pillars of the UN Convention on the rights of the child. We ask children what they want to become, maybe someone says “teacher”, but generally they don’t really know; we need to help them have ambitions.
; Another reason why we talk to children is to know their fears; for example if you ask adults what it is needed for a new school that Plan intends to build, they will reply teachers or training for teachers; but if you ask children, they normally tell you stories about being victims of violence at school and they stopped going.
We build schools and we want girls in particular to go to school, but girls wouldn’t go and we started wondering about the problem and then it turned out to be very simple – but very common across all different regions of the world – which way the toilets are facing; if the door of the toilet is facing the school, then it makes girls feel safe, if they face the other way, then girls do not feel safe because they are afraid of being attacked. This is why we really need to take the time to speak with girls and find out what they think, what their priorities are.
I have another example, after the big earthquake in Central America we are rebuilding all the houses and we sat down and asked the children how the houses should look. They consistently said that the house should have two rooms, and we thought “why not bigger”? And by asking further questions we discovered that the girls wanted house layouts that could protect them from sexual aggression. We would never have found out what happens in houses there, if we hadn’t taken the time to sit down and talk to children.
How is the current economic situation impacting Plan? Which are Plan’s targets for the future? Expansion?
Ms. Schroh – I have to say that due to the economic crisis all NGOs have suffered a bit, especially the ones that get grants from national governments, who cut their funding. We get more of our funding from individual donors, mostly through this child sponsorship model, donors cut other expenses but they do not cut the support to a child they have a relationship with. Our donors have been very loyal. We also have also very good corporate sponsors like Nivea; they are really committed and do huge fundraising.
Regarding Plan targets, there is a strategy till 2015, including growth and improvement of the quality of our programmes. We also have an important on-going action; it is the petition to the UN to establish the International day of the girl
on the 22nd September.
In your view how do the careers of people working in NGOs differ from those working for commercial companies seeking a profit?
Ms. Schroh – Here people are dedicated to the issue of children’s rights, they believe it, they live it and breath it, they know that working for NGOs is not the highest paid career path that you could choose, people belong to a bigger purpose.
Regarding the “development sector” people often think about charity and do not consider it is a broad professional sector in its own right: this ranges from programme management in the field, to advocacy in public relations, to marketing etc. There are also degrees in the field of non-profit management.
Within the sector there is a lot of mobility, there is a possibility to come into the sector as well, but people need to realize you need to have skills that are relevant to the development sector and get the relevant training.
Another difference is motivation, for NGOs it’s not profit, but change; it’s about people and this is a big shift: you are not only accountable to the board and donors, but also accountable to the people that need your help.
What do you think about the “quotae” resolution?
Ms. Schroh – That’s a discussion that has going on for years, I think that discriminations of any kind sometimes need some kind of “positive discrimination” over a short term. I support quotas, but I think they should be a short term action to address a specific discrimination, while what has to be solved are the root causes. I give the example of Norway where it is a “good practice” not to book meetings after 16.00 in order to allow parents to go home and look after their children. Quotas for me are an indicator of success, not the objective, because the real objective is to reach gender equality.
In Plan we have a very good policy that includes quotas (we do not call them quotas, but targets) to reach gender parity, but they are just part of a comprehensive gender equality policy.
The intention to eliminate discrimination is so important to Plan that the new Policy on Gender Equality is applied to all Plan’s activity, to any programme**and all staff members across Plan are accountable for the implementation of the commitments outlined in the policy.
* Examples of discriminations against girls from the Plan website: http://plan-international.org:
• They are 3 times more likely to be malnourished, because families feed them last.
• They are less likely to go to school: 62,000,000 girls are out of primary school
• They are more likely to get HIV: two thirds of young people newly infected with HIV are female
• The leading cause of death of teenage girls is complications from pregnancy
• 70,000 teenage girls are married each day
• Millions of girls are exploited, abused, trafficked or sold into the sex trade
• Girls are much more likely than boys to be poor when they are grown up. Of the 1.5 billion people living on less than a dollar a day, 70% are female
** Plan’s Policy on Gender Equality:
Click here to see the publications from Plan
| Short Biography
|Karen set up the EU Office for Plan International in 2003 and has since held various roles in Plan. As the Head of EU Office she is responsible for managing a team working on advocacy and campaigning to influence EU policy, EC fundraising, and communications.
Before joining Plan, Karen was a Canadian Foreign Service Officer at the Canadian Mission to the EU responsible for development policy.
Karen holds a Master Degree in International Affairs from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and a BA from Trinity College, University of Toronto.
Head of EU Office at Plan
Galerie Ravenstein 27/4
1000 Brussels Belgium
T 32 2 504 60 51
Disclaimer - Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Plan, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.
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