Girls everywhere have the power and potential to do incredible things. Unfortunately, many still face barriers that keep them from reaching their full potential, simply because they’re girls. Pervasive gender stereotypes and inequality result in millions of girls being unable to exercise their right to education or to decide their own futures.
What happens when families, communities, and whole societies start supporting girls and creating an environment in which they can thrive? We create a generation of empowered girls who’ll become tomorrow’s empowered women!
Meet Alminesh, Soaad and Ruchi, who are leading change in their communities today for a better tomorrow.
Alminesh, 16 | Ethiopia
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting is a violation of girls’ rights and a form of gender-based violence that can have devastating and at times lethal consequences. But girls in Ethiopia are leading the charge to end FGM in their communities and more than 50 girls have come together to form the Uncut Girls’ Club.
16-year-old Alminesh is chairwoman of the Uncut Girls’ Club, which meets once a week. Their goal is to educate their peers, encourage families to change their views on FGM, and speak up for girls’ rights within the community. The club is playing a critical role in spreading the message to their community, and their growing membership is a positive sign that change is happening.
Committed to protecting the rights of girls and women, Plan International is helping to raise awareness in rural communities across Ethiopia to end FGM, child marriage and gender-based violence. Through the club, girls are learning about their rights, and gaining the confidence needed to create change.
“We are working with schools and religious groups in different communities to raise awareness about harmful practices. With effort and hard work, we hope to end these damaging traditions in our community through education,” Alminesh explains.
Alminesh is determined to end FGM and pursue a career in nursing to help her community – especially the women and children – stay healthy and thrive.
Soaad, 14 | Egypt
Plan International is working around the globe to create safer, accountable and more inclusive cities with and for girls. The Safer Cities for Girls project is currently active in multiple cities across the globe, including in Cairo where Soaad lives.
Street harassment and otherwise unsafe journeys to school are among cultural gendered norms that have been deterring girls in Soaad’s community from attending school.
But the Safer Cities for Girls project is raising awareness and empowering girls through self-defense classes and open discussions with parents and community members about girls’ rights.
“When I first told my parents I was going to do a football match with boys, they said I couldn’t because I’m a girl and they were worried someone would try and touch my body while we were playing. I kept trying to persuade them though, telling them it was my right to play. Finally, they agreed.”
Through this project, girls are also gaining the confidence they need to demand change from local authorities.
“If girls are confident, they can bring up their children to be confident too. They won’t agree to drop out of school and they’ll be able to take advantage of opportunities.”
Ruchi, 17 | India
When 17-year-old Ruchi refused to give in to pressure from her parents to get married before the legal age of 18, she become a role model for other girls in her village in Lucknow, Utter Pradesh where around 10% of girls get married before they are 18.
Girls who are married early are more likely to experience violence, abuse, and forced sexual relations. Although India has laws that prohibit the marriage of children under the age of 18, the rate, particularly among girls, remains high.
Born into a family of farmers, Ruchi and her sister Ruby, had their marriages arranged for them without their knowledge. Their father had promised them to a family with two brothers.
When Ruchi found out, she told her father that she did not wish to marry yet and instead wanted to complete her studies. Her father told her that he wanted to marry both his daughters off at the same time, to reduce the expense of the wedding and dowry.
Aware of her rights, Ruchi told her parents that she would file a report with the local police, as it would be a crime for her to be married before the age of 18. The consequence would be potential jail time and a fine.
“I told them they would have to pay a penalty. This was beyond their capacity, so I was saved,” Ruchi explains.
Plan International is working in India to end child marriage through youth empowerment projects, in which young people are encouraged to run campaigns around girls’ rights, gender equality, girls’ education and prevention of gender-based violence, using the skills and knowledge they have developed.
Ruchi is one of these youth who is a committed advocate in her village, standing up against child and early marriage.
Empowered girls become empowered women
Meet Mayra. With the support of Plan International, Mayra and her friends were able to make history as empowered girls and continue their work to advance girls’ rights as empowered women.
As a teenager, Mayra alongside her friends campaigned for years to unite families, communities and local authorities in the fight against child marriage. Their efforts culminated in a successful campaign to change the minimum age for marriage in Guatemala to 18 years old!
Today, Mayra and her friends have been campaigning for nearly 5 years, but they are determined to keep going. They work to raise awareness in remote communities where people are unaware of the ban and promote girls’ rights for local girls.
Around the world, ‘normal’ for too many girls is facing roadblocks that challenge their power, freedom and equality just as they enter womanhood. But inspiring girls like Alminesh, Soaad and Ruchi are working to promote and protect girls’ rights so that all girls have the opportunity to reach their full potential and decide their own futures.
This International Women’s Day, join us to #DefyNormal by listening to girls and helping to amplify their voices.