Under the scorching sun in Musanze District on Tuesday, October 11, thousands flocked Ubworoherane Stadium to be part of a ceremony where the First Lady, Jeannette Kagame, awarded best performing girls during an event to mark the International Day of the Girl. The day is marked every October 11. During the awarding ceremony, the First Lady said that having a holiday dedicated to girls is not ignoring boys, but only to address unique challenges girls face. “Having a dedicated day for a girl does not mean ignoring the boy. It is instead a time to evaluate the steps we have taken and to reflect on persistent hindrances which hinder a girl on the same path with her brother,” Kagame noted. Meanwhile, in a tent across the field was an exhibition on different products for women’s reproductive health, such as reusable sanitary pads, condoms, and free testing for haemoglobin. A young looking lady carrying her almost two-year-old daughter as she went through different stands, before being asked by a facilitator “come and we help you with contraception.” She said she had it all figured out. Julienne Tuyizere, 18, had ready dropped out of school when she got pregnant with the child. In fact, she was abandoned by her mother who she says stays in Kigali and is married. She then went to live with her then boyfriend’s parents, before moving in with him. “We were living together before he left me all alone with the child. But he helps me sometimes when he gets money,” Tuyizere told The New Times. Her dream to become a doctor has been lost, because even getting food for herself and child depends on whether they meet a well-wisher or not. She is only one of thousands of Rwandan girls whose dreams have been crashed, or at least delayed because they had an unwanted pregnancy. 17,337 teenagers conceived in 2017, 19,832 in 2018, 23,544 in 2019, 19,701 in 2020, and 23,000 last year. This not only puts teenage mothers at high risks of serious health complications, it also affects their babies who are prone to social and emotional distress, because girls who get pregnant have fewer opportunities to complete their education after childbirth. The 2021 Sustainable Development Goals Report estimated that 10 million girls will be at risk of child marriage in the next decade because profound effects of the Covid-19. The girls will be an addition to the 100 million who were projected to become child brides before the pandemic. The report also indicates that while one in three women (736 million) have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence at least once since the age of 15- usually by an intimate partner, intimate partner violence starts early. “Among girls and women who have ever been married or had a partner, nearly 24 per cent of those aged 15 to 19 years have been subjected to such violence,” the report reads. Girls are also subjected to trafficking in persons, where they are primary victims of sexual exploitation, making 72 percent of detected girl victims. UN also estimated that the global internet user gender gap is growing, from 11 per cent in 2013 to 17 per cent in 2019, and widest in the world’s least developed countries at 43 per cent. Also, the percentage of women among Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates is below 15 per cent in over two-thirds of countries. Several other reports indicate that it would take more than a century to close the gender gap, and some of the reasons are factors that could be solved when girls are still young, such as empowering their education and safety. Elliot Jolie Keza, a 15-year-old student from Lycee Notre Dame de Citeaux (LNDC) who was awarded, told The New Times that she was happy because it gives her more courage. “When girls are empowered in this way, it makes them feel like they are in a society which treats them as people, just like everyone else,” the future lawyer noted. Deo Siyorugendo, is a father who was present at the awarding ceremony, although his daughter is only six years. He hopes that someday, she will get successful in her school and career. “I have learnt that I should be more involved in my daughter’s life so that she will be healthy and be able to follow her lessons well in school,” Siyorugendo noted. Honouring the International Day of the Girl is also a way to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. “It is very important to create space for girls and to empower them so they can understand their rights and be empowered to be part of decision making for issues that affect them, and also the national issues,” Annie Kayiraba, the Director of the Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD) said.