Research indicates that poverty and lack of financial support for educational needs to support Kenyan girls (and increasingly boys) allow older adults to sexually exploit them in exchange for money. This happens through the "sponsors" culture that has increased in Kenya exacerbated by social media.
"Sugar daddies and sponsors have become a culturally accepted norm worldwide. But the practice is tantamount to child abuse causing profound damage to girls and boys lacking alternatives to fund their education."
On July 1, Girls First Finance (GFF) will launch a new app that provides mentoring, counselling, budget tracking and affordable student loans that target girls at risk of sexual exploitation from sponsors in Kenya.
Formed to support the education and professional development of the girl child, Girls First Finance privately released the app for Android on July 24, 2022, to the students of St. Therese Vocational Training Centre. However, the first pilot of student loans will start in Kenya in October 2022.
Poverty and access to education are significant challenges for African youth, especially young girls. Students are particularly excluded from higher education because of the lack of student loan financing options outside of government.
“At HELB, we have over 40,000 students seeking emergency funds to supplement their HELB loans at any time. Not every student loan product can match government interest rates. Still, we should encourage private lenders who can offer sustainable loans at scale because more students are taking out predatorial mobile loans to bridge their funding gaps.” Charles Ringera, CEO HELB, and Advisory Board Member of GFF.
Research indicates that this lack of options for Kenyan girls (and increasingly boys) allows older adults to sexually exploit them in exchange for financial support. This happens through the “sponsors” culture that has increased in Kenya exacerbated by social media.
Recent studies suggest that as many as 25 to 50 percent of girls are enveloped into the sponsor culture at some point during their schooling.
A 2019 Action Aid study indicated that professors or higher education staff adversely exploited nearly 60 percent of students. Equally, the prominence of sex-for-grades exploitation within school increasingly affects those fortunate enough to attend. These issues of access and exploitation are what GFF seeks to solve through its mobile app being launched this week.
“The exploitation of girls and women is the largest pandemic in the history of humanity. It transcends class, race, and country. Almost every woman and girl have at least one story of gender-based violence. But no young person should ever be forced to knowingly compromise her dignity just to manifest her education dreams,” says Andrea Pizziconi, Girls First Finance’s founder.
“Sugar daddies and sponsors have become a culturally accepted norm worldwide. But the practice is tantamount to child abuse causing profound damage to girls and boys lacking alternatives to fund their education,” she added.
GFF launched the app first for private distribution to the girls of St. Therese Vocational Centre in Karen. Through the generosity of a private foundation, GFF hoped to build a cohort of test users first before making the app available to the public on July 1.
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While students of St. Therese will have the first crack at using the app, the pilot will soon expand to involve approximately 3,000 girls from across the country. And after the official launch, the general public can also sign up to gain access.
New features of the app will be rolled out over the coming weeks and months, with early features offering budget planning tools, daily news feeds and advice from prominent women worldwide, and matching services connecting users to mentors and counsellors.
The latter feature is supported through a pilot partnership with the Kenya Association of Professional Counselors. KAPC’s trained counsellors will provide deeply discounted therapy sessions for users of the app, recognizing how many traumatized and exploited girls now need support to heal.
Director of KAPC Elias Gikundi decided to partner with Girls First Finance out of the recognition that mental health access must be democratized urgently to serve our most vulnerable youth.
The public can support GFF’s users by signing up to become a certified mentor or life coach, joining a “crew” of four to support each young user’s financial health, or posting gigs and jobs targeting young women.
Mentor training is readily available online for those who sign up with GFF. GFF’s Kenyan team has already recruited pilot mentors with efforts led by GFF’s Program Officer Mercy Kalung’e.
Through this app, Girls First Finance will begin to connect Kenya’s most vulnerable girls to the world. It will soon prove that, regardless of what has happened to a girl in the past, she can be empowered back to full mental health, all while showing that unbanked vulnerable girls given the proper support are likely the most responsible loan borrowers in the banking sector has far too long overlooked.