Opinion & Profiles

How to create a gender-balanced world for the girl child in our new normal

Written by Health-e News

We’re living in what many have described as a ‘new normal.’ Yet, how do we reshape the norm so that the girl child is no longer left behind? Novartis’ Sibonile Dube has a few practical suggestions.

As we head into the last quarter of 2020, the world looks vastly different to what it did in 2019, something none of us ever envisioned for this year. Since the start of lockdown, we’ve seen an increase in activism and many people adding their voice to various aspects of our everyday life. This is our chance to accelerate social change and reshape the environment within our sphere of influence.

As we observe the International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October, there are small, but highly impactful actions we can and should all take to actively craft the new normal we want to live in, and we envision for the generation of women that will follow.

We need to listen more and act more. The rising generation of women in South Africa, across the continent and indeed in the rest of the world is inter-connected and is not waiting to be given a voice; they’re taking to all the platforms they have to share, inform and empower. It is our responsibility to listen and be the bridge between them and their aspirations. It takes society, government and the business community to create an enabling environment today, for the success of future generations.

Seek to Understand

To create the shift, we cannot only fight for female representation in the highest seats, we need to understand how to create a system that fosters a gender-balanced world and allows meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels – from the household to the boardroom table.

Women’s economic empowerment starts with creating a world where they have control over their own time, lives and bodies.

That is why Novartis initiatives like donating re-usable sanitary towels to school going girls that address barriers to education that are particular to a biological gender, and contributing to long-term feeding schemes through our partners behind the Feed. Play. Love initiative creates important groundwork for the next generation.

But there is more to be done. According UNICEF, girls still face challenges in accessing healthcare services, and the information they need to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections or unintended pregnancies. In light of the containment in community spaces and not going to school during the COVID-19 Lockdown, many teenage girls might find that they will not be returning to school due to falling pregnant during that time and sadly a lot of them will never have a chance to get an education thereafter.

Educating more girls can lift a country’s economy. It is the role of society to ensure no girl is left behind by continually seeking to create opportunities for girls from all social and economic backgrounds.


As the next generation of women seek new skills towards the futures they choose, and assert their power as change-makers – we have a responsibility to support them.

This responsibility includes directing available resources to support the charge that far exceeds financial contributions to healthcare and education (although we cannot forego these) – to giving of our time and sharing of our expertise.

Women and men who have forged the way have the potential to guide the next generation of women along the path we’ve started levelling for them, through mentoring and upskilling.

And while formalised programmes geared towards women’s empowerment, career development and mentorship programmes are important, we don’t need to wait for someone to give us the go-ahead. Simply spend the time with young talent that enters your business, or seek out opportunities outside of your nine to five. As a mentor for young females, I have personally found this to be a highly rewarding experience.


Gone are the days where we can advocate for change in our personal capacity, and fall short in our workplace, or disregard these expectations when applying our buying power. We need to be intentional with our resources, and as businesses we need to prioritise time, energy and budgets to support the changes we want to see as consumers.

And it really shouldn’t be a hard sell. It is estimated that gender-diverse teams deliver greater innovation and financial returns.

In actively creating our new normal, we have an opportunity to seize the moment, to reimagine economies, societies, and political systems so that they uphold human rights and achieve gender equality, that benefit all.

So, don’t let those ‘passion projects’ fall on the wayside; pull it up front and centre, add it to the meeting agenda and help create the world we want to see. For me – a world filled with opportunities for girls and women. – Health-e News

Sibonile Dube is the Head Of Communications & Patient Advocacy at Novartis

About the author

Health-e News

Health-e News is South Africa's dedicated health news service and home to OurHealth citizen journalism. Follow us on Twitter @HealtheNews