When it comes to civic engagement, girls often get a raw deal, rarely being consulted or listened to on issues that greatly impact them. But, when given the opportunity to fully engage on matters that affect them, girls become powerful forces for change. Their lives get better, but so do the lives of girls around them.
For International Youth Day, we celebrate five girls who prove what can be achieved when girls participate in civil society.
1. The girl who refused to accept no as an answer
At 13, Emelin was told by her local mayor she had no chance of doing anything to keep girls in school. But the problems she could see all around her in Guatemala – sexual violence, lack of healthcare, only 14 per cent of girls finishing secondary school and half getting pregnant by 18 – spurred her to continue her push for change. And it worked. Seven months later, the mayor dedicated funding to girls’ education and healthcare.
Now age 15, Emelin is speaking out for girls’ rights globally at the United Nations. This past March, she took the stage at the Commission for the Status of Women (CSW) and addressed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the issues girls face in her community. Her efforts – aided by Let Girls Lead – have played a significant role in ensuring promising targets for girls in the post-2015 Sustainable Development goals (SDGs).
2. The girl who forced the Malawi government to change its child marriage law
At only age 11, Memory Banda’s sister got pregnant at an initiation camp that primes girls for early marriage. When Memory saw the difficulties her sister faced, she made other plans for herself.
Her campaign, which led to her delivering a TED talk, has now had national impact.
Not only did she refuse to go to the camp, she also convinced a local community leader to end the practice of child marriage. Her campaign, which led to her delivering a TED talk, has now had national impact. In April this year, the Malawi government passed a law raising the legal age of marriage to 18.
3. The girl who’s creating Namibia’s future leaders
Girls often grow up too fast in Namibia, where teenagers take responsibility for childcare and generating income, often preventing them from attending school. In some extreme cases, cultural practices such as sexual initiation by family members takes place despite being illegal, and girls are taught to be silent and obedient, whatever happens to them. But Tikhala Itaye wants to give girls and young women a voice as a way to mobilise what she calls “vulnerable populations”. Tikhala does this through the pan-African Afriyan movement, which she represented at the UN Youth Assembly earlier this year. While she’s not flying to New York, she mentors girls to follow in her footsteps as a law student and passionate campaigner for social justice through Her Liberty Namibia, an organisation she co-founded.
4. The girl who’s following in Malala’s footsteps
Brave, articulate and proud: three of the many words people have used to describe the eloquent way Malala has given girls’ rights a global voice. But she’s not the only one refusing to accept the status quo in Pakistan. Hijab, 18, told the World Education Forum this year about how her local campaigning helped prevent one of her classmates becoming a child bride: “She told us she did not want to get married and wanted to continue her education, so we brought the matter to community representatives. It was not easy, but eventually – through consultation and the blessing of elders in our community – the parents agreed to postpone the marriage and re-enrolled her in school.”
5. The girl who asked African leaders to invest in girls
Achie, 16, from Ethiopia does voluntary work through World YWCA for girls from low-income families. What’s so unique about this, you might ask? Achie grew up in a world where one in five girls say they don’t have a single friend. Achie is more than just a friend to the girls of Addis Ababa, she’s a beacon of what’s possible when girls’ voices are heard. Her appearance at last month’s Financing For Development sparked much discussion about the critical importance for girls’ needs to be prioritized in the SDGs. “If we don’t invest in girls today, then women are not going to be equal tomorrow because they didn’t have equal advantages as girls. Girls today are mothers tomorrow,” she said.
Share these stories today using #YouthDay, and join us in celebrating these incredible accomplishments!