“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question grownups love to ask kids.
But for far too many girls around the world, the idea of getting to choose what they want to be is far-fetched.
According to UNICEF, more than 90 percent of girls who live in developing countries are destined for jobs that are not regulated or protected, in which low or no pay, abuse and exploitation are common. The most disadvantaged girls — including those in rural areas and those with disabilities — will have even less access to lucrative and fulfilling work.
UNICEF supports a skilled GirlForce
Today, on International Day of the Girl, UNICEF is launching a new initiative to help vulnerable adolescent girls get the education and skills they will need to compete and keep up in a workforce where constant innovation and automation are the norms.
According to International Labour Organization findings, although educated and skilled workers are in hot demand, roughly 25% of young people — most of them young women — are neither employed nor in education nor in training.
To give girls a fair chance, the UNICEF initiative to build a skilled “GirlForce,”will focus on helping girls build self-confidence, learn how to solve problems, think critically and be an effective team member. Though crucial to the rapidly changing world of work, these “21st century skills,” as well as the essential STEM disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, are not always taught in schools.
These transferable skills are key to girls’ success. Also key is access to mentors, training to ease the transition from school to work, and the elimination of roadblocks women entrepreneurs of any age face when seeking financing or further career development.
Meet the SuperGirl Silversmiths of UNICEF Market
The Jalapa Girls Silversmiths, a group of artisan jewelry makers featured on UNICEF Market, show just how far girls can go when armed with all these essential tools.
Raised in the Casa Hogar, a home for vulnerable women and girls in Guatemala, the members of the collective and their fellow residents come from the kind of small towns and agricultural communities where girls have a particularly difficult time finding work.
But thanks to an entrepreneur training program run by Gracia, a U.S. organization working to economically empower young Guatemalan women, these talented SuperGirl artisans have developed the skills — and self-esteem — to build a successful business and a brighter future.
“Most people think that if you give a young woman a job you are economically empowering her. But economic empowerment is far more than a paycheck,” explains Gracia founder Clare Johnston Kunkel. “It requires a young woman having the confidence and independence to make decisions on her own and the confidence to have a voice in her family … and in public … and [in] how she wants to spend her money and lead her life.”
Thanks to the Gracia Entrepreneur Training program (GET), the Jalapa girls are on their way to have all that and more. They’ve learned the fundamentals of jewelry making as well as how to run a successful business — manage inventory, navigate import-export taxes, work a balance sheet, ship their goods — and provide customer service. Just as important, as employees of Gracia’s workshop, Milagros, they receive a generous benefits package, with a labor contract, health insurance, paid vacation and personal days.
“I see tremendous change in these women,” Kunkel proudly reports. “They started as girls who had never left Jalapa and now they travel on their own to Antigua, to Guatemala City, they live independently, make sales calls, work with product development teams. They do things I never thought they were capable of doing. They stand taller and they welcome the challenge.”
Ilma Cruz (second from right), graduate of the Gracia entrepreneur training program says, “I can now buy my own things and manage my own finances. I no longer depend on my parents. I now depend on myself.”
Ilma Cruz, a graduate of the GET program and now Garcia’s Chief Operating Officer, is living proof that given the chance, girls can do and have it all. Her experience and that of all the girls in Guatemala who are now thriving in business and their personal lives also support UNICEF’s credo that a level playing field is all girls need to soar.
“The work that I have has personally changed me because I don’t have the same thoughts I had three or four years ago,” says Ilma. “I can now buy my own things and manage my own finances. I no longer depend on my parents. I now depend on myself.”
Support the Jalapa Girls Silversmiths by checking out their UNICEF Market jewelry collection. Because UNICEF Market is a Fair Trade marketplace, the Jalapa Girls receive an equitable percentage of every purchase. Plus proceeds from every Market product you buy also goes toward supporting UNICEF’s lifesaving work for girls — and boys — around the world.
On International Day of the Girl, we salute Gracia for its support of the entrepreneurial artisan girls of Guatemala and UNICEF Market.