South African Girls Education Movement Descends on Parliament, Bastion of Exclusion
By Charlotte Vuyiswa McClain (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last week on a beautiful Friday morning the South African Parliament underwent major transformation. Even if it was only for that morning, it certainly would transform the lives of many young South African girls. The Old Assembly, once a bastion of exclusion and prejudice, was bustling with pluralistic representation. On this day the Old Assembly had not only lost its shameful history of overseeing apartheid, neither was it boasting the diversity of our regular Parliamentarians, today it was under siege by girls from all over South Africa. They had come to participate in a special event hosted by the Minister of Education Professor Kader Asmal. The event was "girls parliament" an activity emanating from the Girls Education Movement that was launched as part of the seating.
All the girls had descended on Parliament in Cape Town for many this was their very first time to visit these corridors of power, to be work shopped by Parliamentarians on how Parliament works and most importantly to engage in a mock seating of Parliament.
The girls' role-played. There was a Speaker of the House, Ministers from various line function Ministries and Members from the opposition party. For all the girls that spoke this certainly was their maiden address. They discussed a wide rage of issues such as access to social services, education, access to justice, the right to be safe, sexual abuse, discrimination on the basis of gender and R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Strong representation of girls with disabilities
This was by all accounts an impressive assembly of girls. They reflected the demographics of this country with particular strong representation of girls with disabilities. There were Sign language interpreters present. The role playing Minister of Justice was a Deaf girl who Signed to the entire Assembly. She said that while our country has a wonderful Constitution that entrenched the principles of equality and access to justice, she was well aware that police stations and courts still were not accessible for Deaf girls/persons who had been violated because they did not have anyone that could Sign. This in effect denied Deaf people access to justice. She went on to say that many of these buildings were still physically inaccessible again raising concern around equality and human dignity for people with disabilities.
The Minister of Education spoke about the need to mainstream children with disabilities. But balanced integration with the rights of other learners to learn and how given with the huge numbers of learners per class to just one teacher could interfere with their rights. She swiftly produced the answer and stressed we must have teacher Aides to support teachers who have disabled learners in their class. He waxed lyrically about how girls should not be deterred from taking on the sciences and stressed that there were no subjects that were not for girls.
I had a fairly insignificant role to play, but I had been invited to witness this wonderful event. The event was important in many respects. It certainly went a long way in raising awareness about how government, the legislature work among the girls present but also the invited audience and the general public.
Glimpse of the future
In this very stoic room surrounded by girls dressed in cool caps and polo t-shirts all sporting the inscription of the Girls Education Movement I could see budding politicians, future Ministers, policy makers, future leaders for the disability movements and, perhaps even more comforting, leaders who would be informed and sensitive to disability issues and champions for equality.
Witnessing the development of pride
I got on the flight back to Johannesburg later that afternoon with a sense of pride. Clearly exhausted from an exhilarating trip I returned to Johannesburg with a group of girls with disabilities who had been part of the girls parliament. I watched their confidence rise and shine with pride when a flight attendant asked if they had been playing sport in Cape Town. She responded " No I was a member of the Girls Parliament"
This had been a proactive initiative that had reached out to girls and had clearly played a role in promoting respect for the views of the child, more particularly the " girl child' as articulated in Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 12 is the article that makes provision for child participation. It had reached out to include girls with disabilities and had them actively participate in the event of the day. I knew that their lives had been touched and the soul of our nation enriched.