Women are girls first: let's turn IWD on its head

International Women's Day is a day to celebrate women's achievements, but let's not forget the growing role that girls are playing. Girls aren't waiting until they become adults to shape their futures as women, and as a result we're seeing progress made at unprecedented rates. Who run the world? Girls.

"I'm sorry, Mr Micky, if you still don't get it, then David Cameron oughta say beat it, Gove, beat it!"

Direct, to-the-point and hard to ignore, Fahma Mohamed's style of campaigning against female genital mutilation (FGM) is a little unconventional. After all, it's not every day you hear an anti-FGM rap. But she's getting results.  

Fahma is heading up The Guardian's campaign against FGM and her petition was one of the fastest-growing change.org has ever seen. In just a few weeks she gained more than 230,000 signatures of support, including those of Malala Yousafzai and UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon.

The petition called for UK secretary of state for education Michael Gove - or Mr Micky - to write to every teacher in the UK, asking them to train teachers and parents about the horrors of FGM. After it gained so many signatures, Gove asked for a meeting. It took her just one hour to convince him.
That's a pretty brave thing to do, especially when you're just 17.

Girls inspiring change

Fahma's story is one that everyone should read, especially as this Saturday is International Women's Day (IWD).

IWD celebrates the achievements of girls and women past, present and future. From 15,000 women marching through New York in 1908, to the global celebration of girls and women you will see Saturday (the photo above is from last year's IWD), what the day represents has grown exponentially over the past 100 years. This year's theme is inspiring change: economically, politically, socially and everything that comes in between.

Women are doing brilliant things all over the world, and that's cause for celebration. But, what's truly brilliant about today is that girls are not waiting until they reach adulthood to inspire social change. By looking to their future as women, and championing what they want for it, girls are driving forward progress for gender equality faster than ever before. Fahma's story shows how one voice can start a movement, and she's not alone. From Malala to the Ni Nyampinga and Yegna girls, there are plenty of incredible girls inspiring change. Here are just four more who have inspired us recently.

Meet Hannah Godefa, a young trailblazer from Ethiopia. She was just seven years old when she set up the Pencil Mountain project. So far it has delivered more than half a million school resources so that girls can get equal opportunities in education.

Then there's Sepideh Hooshyar, who became an inspiration when she starred in the Reaching for the Stars documentary when she just 14. With her dream of becoming an astronomer sitting well outside the norm for girls in Iran, she single-handedly showed a nation that those norms need to be challenged. Overcoming the obstacles of gender stereotypes, she is now studying physics at university. 

Shalu Shrivastava, 17, stood up to violence against girls and women in India. After being harassed on her way to school, she refused to stay silent, filed a police report and now shares her experiences publicly to raise awareness throughout Delhi.

And then there's Grace from southern Malawi. At 10 years old, she attended the time-honoured ritual of initiation camp, considered a rite of passage for girls in some villages. While there, she was taught how to have sex, but nothing of the risks of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases or how to protect herself. Now 15, she's determined that girls get the right information when it comes to health and sex education. She works with the Girls Empowerment Network to teach other girls in her community about the risks involved in early sexual activity.

Women are girls first

Instead of spending today talking about the issues girls face and what that will mean for them as women, let's take a different track. Let's spend the day celebrating the girls who are doing something about it, the girls who are changing things - from Fahma to Grace, and beyond.
Today, it's time we step up. Together we can make sure that by IWD 2050, the issues those 15,000 women marched for more than 100 years ago will be distant memories.
As usual, Fahma sums it up perfectly: "I like being a role model. I want them [girls] to know that if they really want to do something, they can do whatever they want in life."

Happy International Women's Day.

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