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8 March marks the occasion of International Women’s Days. On this date, many events across the world are organized to celebrate women’s important and significant contributions to society, whilst other events highlight the continued gender-based inequalities and gender-based sufferings too many women face.

Much of this involves adult women. Yet, in practices concerning the advancement of women’s rights the girl child is often there, literally or imagined.

Article 39 of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) states that ‘the girl child of today is the woman of tomorrow’. This concern with the future continues to characterize much development practice concerning children and youth, and at times takes highly particular gendered forms. A good example is PLAN’s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ global campaign.

Marjaana Jauhola argues in her article entitled ‘The Girl Child of Today is the Woman of Tomorrow’: Fantasizing the adolescent girl as the future hope in post-tsunami reconstruction efforts in Aceh, Indonesia’ that such campaigns promote a development doctrine: ‘the right timing of events in adolescent girls’ life guarantees better futures’; thus a gendered age-normativity (see also picture above). Building on Sara Ahmed, who has unraveled the significant relationship that is constructed between ‘the girl’ and ‘the future woman’ in the Beijing document, Jauhola observes that ‘growing from a girl into a woman becomes a measure of ‘global development’, a move from underdevelopment to development. In this construction, the life course of a girl child becomes a wider metaphor for the progress of the ‘globe’.

For example, one area of action in the PLAN campaign is addressing ‘child marriage’. This is about making sure that girls do not marry before reaching age of majority (18 according to international standards), without questioning the heteronormative institution of marriage as an eventual destination. Drawing on work by Bruhm and Hurley, Jauhola points out that this projects (girl) children into a heteronormative future, which assumes that ‘childhood is essentially heterosexually determined’.

Campaigns like Because I am A Girl thus mobilise, in the words of Jauhola ‘discursive connections between heteronormativity and future, adolescence and gender, sexuality and citizenship’. In these ‘citizenship fantasies’ the girl-child functions as a site of limitless potential precisely because her future is not yet written. Returning again to Bruhm and Hurley, Jauhola points out that ‘the utopian fantasy is the property of adults, not necessarily of children’. Perhaps this is something to consider when celebrating International Women’s Day.

posted by Roy Huijsmans

posted by Roy Huijsmans

UNFPA has published, what they call a ‘status report‘ on adolescents and young people in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report is based on the much criticised idea of ‘youth transitions’ (see for example HERE). This is made clear on p. 4 where it states that:

Young people are experiencing a time of transition, full of physical, psychological, emotional and economic changes as they leave childhood and enter adulthood. The decisions that are made during this period of life affect not only the individual wellbeing of young people, but also the wellbeing of entire societies. Ensuring that young people can successfully navigate this phase of life will help break the cycle of poverty and produce benefits for individuals, communities and nations.

Reporting the ‘status’ of adolescents and youth in the Sub-Saharan countries is then effectively an assessement of how well these countries have performed against a number of normative thressholds measured on a national scale. For easy reading UNFPA uses colour coding on an interactive map, with ‘red’ identifying ‘countries that need to take immediate action to address a particular indicator’, ‘yellow’ to denote ‘countries that are making progress…but may need additional investments’, and ‘green’ to for ‘countries that are making exceptional progress’. 

One of the normative indicators is the ‘age at first sex‘ (the median age by which one half of young people aged 15-24 have had penetrative sex). Leaving questions about the reliability of such data aside for the moment, these interactive maps effectively turn the map of Sub-Saharan Africa into a topographic landscape of different degrees of ‘problems’ and ‘progress’. What is erased in the interactive exercise are important questions of who has defined the criteria of what is considered ‘problem’ and ‘progress’? for whom? and is what matters the age of first sex or the conditions and sets of relationships in which this takes place?

posted by Roy Huijsmans

Volume 12 of the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia is a themed issue on ‘The living and the dead‘. The volume contains five articles and five review essays on the topic including an article by Abdur Rozaki entitled ‘Suicide among Indonesian Children/Teenagers’ (freely downloadable in Bahasa Indonesia, English, Japanes and Thai).

The article starts with the worrying claim that ‘suicide among Indonesian children/teenagers is apparently increasing every year’. Although an important issue it is unclear whether this trend can be substantiated empirically as the author notes that ‘there is no specific national data regarding number of suicides’.

The main thrust of the article is trying to explain why Indonesian teenagers (which appears a more appropriate term than ‘children/teenagers’ used by the author) commit suicide, and why the prevalence appears higher in the Gunung Kidul regency (Yogyakarta) than elsewhere in Indonesia.

The conclusions leave one, however, with more questions than answers. The author concludes that ‘children [teenagers] are forced to face a complex reality beyond their emotion control and capacity to overcome certain life problems and when cornerned, they decide to choose “short cuts” to find solutions’, something, it is stressed, has increased because of the socio-political changes since 1998. This supposed relation between broad based socio-political changes and the particular condition of adolescence (based on an assumed limited capacity for ’emotion control’) is hardly specific and questionable. Not in the least since it would apply to all Indonesian teenagers, thus still leaving readers with the question why the incidence of teenage suicide appears higher in certain parts of Indonesia than in others.

 


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