The Urban and Digital Divide – Same City: Different World
I spent international "Because I am a Girl" (BIAAG) Day at the launch of the BIAAG Report by CPP in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
At the top table were the partners in this research – the host organization Obra do Berca (an NGO based in a Favela), Plan Brazil, CPP and 4 young girls aged 11-13 (two from Favela and two from a private school).
The launch was attended by local people including children from Favela, partners of CPP and of course the media – National and local TV plus numerous journalists.
The event came to life not when the Report writers spoke of the research, which was very interesting, but when the young girls spoke!
The audience was stunned when the first young girl, aged 13 and from Favela, described a very bleak family situation. She described how the boyfreind (aged 34) of her cousin had attempted on several occasions to touch her inappropriately and had tried to undress her one night when he slept over in her house. He would call her on her cell phone and ask her to meet with him.
The girl, in tears, had tried to tell her mother and her cousin - but they would not believe her and said she was making this up. So over time – she has become isolated and marginalized within her family; her only support comes from the staff of Obra do Berca who she confided and continues to confide in.
The other young girls, not surprisingly, were shaken by this story but proceeded to tell their own stories, not as horrible as this but still revealing in terms of the very contrasting situations they experienced. The last young girl to speak, also 13 and from the private school, described how her mother would not let her go out onto the street alone – there was always some adult around to look out for her. This was replicated when she went online – her mother would regularly come and look at which sites the girl was looking at and who she was talking to. This girl laughed at how much control her mother seemed to exert over her. But having heard the first girl speak of how her mother and family did not believe her or offer any protection, she said she was glad that her mother was looking out for her and providing protection.
Listening to these stories, it brought home for me the messages from the title of the research “Digital and Urban Frontiers: Girls in a Changing Landscape.” We really do not understand what is happening in the lives of children on these frontiers because we never hear (or listen for) their stories!
If we are to provide any form of meaningful support or protection, maybe we need to listen more so that these contrasting stories can help us understand these two worlds which co-exist side by side.
What gives me hope in this situation was the empathy and support the girls gave each other and the care offered and accepted by Obra do Berca. There is power in being listened to and believed.
Micheal is a CPP Special Advisor and is currently in Brazil to introduce the Circle of Rights Process. Read more about Micheal's mission to Brazil.