Youth are the leaders of today not tomorrow

| Jan 14, 2019

We often refer to youth as the leaders of tomorrow but Plan International has the privilege of working with youth all around the world who are making change happen in their communities today.

There are many concerning children’s rights issues that continue to prevail in our world and the task to eliminate them all can be daunting. But from trafficking to gender equality, youth are making strides in inspiring ways and tackling the status quo one step at a time.

We’re proud to provide youth leaders a platform, opportunities and support to help them Defy Normal and create a better future for all children. Here are the inspiring stories of 5 such youth leaders.

Sabina, Nepal

Two girls standing with a sign that says stop trafficking of girls in Nepal.

“If girls know their rights, they can educate the new generation and help the country to develop.”

Sabina is 17 years old and lives with her family in Nepal. She used to be involved in a Plan International-facilitated adolescent girls’ club: a community-based girls’ group where girls learn about various issues and organize awareness-raising events.

She was encouraged to get further involved by learning and spreading awareness about children’s rights. Now Sabina leads trainings in her community on how child and human trafficking can happen.

“In my opinion, luring children and young people in the name of giving them a good education, then abusing and exploiting them in various forms, like not giving them enough food for their work, or giving them other kinds of work, this is child trafficking.”

More than 8,000 girls and women are trafficked in Nepal every year.

Once they’re taken away from their homes, these women and girls are being sexually exploited in brothels, being forced into child marriage, domestic servitude and to work in clothing factories. Men posing as boyfriends lure vulnerable girls with the promise of good work and a new life.

“I know someone from my community who was taken. She was lured by a man, thinking he would marry her and give her a good education. But later she realized she was taken away to be sold. She was saved at the border and returned back.”

To combat trafficking in Nepal, Sabina and her friend Sarita started a petition and got over 46,000 signatures in support. The petition was presented to their Mayor and he agreed to run a public awareness campaign on the issue. 

Erika, Ecuador

Erika standing with crossed arms

“Sex education is so important too for both parents and young people as it enables us to be free to make decisions about our own lives and bodies.”

Erika is 18 and in her community, teen pregnancy is very common. To combat this issue, Plan International started a program called “Teenage Pregnancy Free Zones” that provides education and training around the causes and consequences of teen pregnancy. Erika got involved and appreciates the safe space where youth can learn and talk about sexual health and self-esteem. The youth organize events and share their knowledge with their parents.

“A friend of mine got pregnant when she was 14 years old. I knew her from school and she used to tell me that her parents never paid her much attention – they encouraged her to leave school and look after the family’s animals instead. When she fell pregnant, her parents’ first reaction was to beat her. The baby’s father, who was 17, didn’t want to know. His parents took his side, saying it was her fault she got pregnant.”

Teen pregnancy prevails in her community because there’s a lack of communication between parents and their children, low self-esteem in girls, and no access to sexual health education.

“In my class at school, most girls didn’t receive any sex education. So they’d get pregnant at 13 or 14 and have to leave school because boys would make fun of them for being pregnant… Information about and access to contraception are so important because they give us a way of preventing pregnancy.”

Approximately 16 million girls aged 15-19 years give birth each year.

This is a disturbing number, especially when you consider that globally, complications during childbirth and pregnancy are the leading cause of death for this demographic.

What gives us hope is that girls like Erika are determined to change the story for girls in their communities! Erika  leads workshops that focus heavily on self-esteem, challenging gender norms and continues to advocate for youth having access to sexual and reproductive health education in order to make the best decisions for their futures.

She’s met Ecuador’s First Lady to discuss girls’ rights and how gender-based violence can be combated in her country. And we know this is just the beginning for her.

Jhony, Brazil

Jhony leaning against a wall

“Football is a team sport, it requires companionship, dedication. A lot of people say it’s just a boy thing, but this isn’t true. Girls also have the right to play whatever sport they want, to have the same opportunities as boys, on or off the field.”

Jhony was raised by two strong women – his mother and grandmother – and from an early age observed the challenges that women have to face every day.

When he was a teenager, Jhony joined Plan International’s Healthy Adolescent program, which encouraged young people to get involved in discussions on sex education, discrimination, domestic violence, citizenship and gender equality.

“Participating in this project made me realize that my community had a lot of problems and gave me the information I needed to try to change this.”

He then decided to join one of Plan International’s local Gender Equality programs. Jhony took part in workshops and training sessions to develop the skills and knowledge he needed to become a young leader who could raise awareness about the rights of girls and women and the fight for gender equality.

Jhony passed along everything he heard and continued the conversations he had with his peers at the program with family, and friends and teachers at school. Thanks to him, people in his community began talking about safe sex, sexual abuse and women’s rights.

Now Johny wants to continue scoring goals for equality in college with La League, a project developed by Plan International that reflects on unequal gender relations through football!

Aneeka, Australia

Aneeka smiling in front of white brick wall

“Gender equality has the power to transform entire societies, not just the lives of women and girls.”

Aneeka is 23 and a dedicated gender equality activist, both in her home country of Australia and internationally within the development sector. She’s focused on intersectional discrimination working with migrant and refugee communities transitioning to life in Australia, as part of her volunteer work, and has worked to support survivors of gender-based and domestic violence in women’s’ shelters in Peru and on girls’ education initiatives in Cambodia.

She’s also focused on creating safer and more inclusive cities for girls and women. Aneeka recently participated in Plan International’s global seat-sharing program and became CEO of Metro Trains in Australia to mark International Day of the Girl. Alongside other youth campaigners, she briefed the Metro Trains executive team on an idea for an app that would enable women to report incidents of sexual harassment.

Today, the app is under development.

“The working partnership we have developed with Metro Trains and their eagerness to be involved has been truly fantastic. In a workplace that is primarily dominated by men, especially within their executive team, being given the opportunity to brief them and share our experiences on public transport as young women was a rare and valuable experience for everyone involved.”

According to a survey conducted by Plan International which asked 400 experts across 6 continents to share their perceptions on girls’ rights and urban safety, sexual harassment is the number one safety risk facing girls and young women living in cities across the world.

Aneeka was pleased to know that Metro Trains ultimately had the same goal as the youth: they all wanted more women and girls to feel safe and comfortable when using Melbourne’s transportation system at any time of the day or night.

“Our opinions were listened to, validated and taken seriously, and now Metro and Plan International are working collaboratively to design a safety app that can be used to report any form of harassment or misconduct on public transport. The app will be beneficial for the entire city, and it is very exciting that this project and app development has stemmed from a group of young women and the power of their voices!”

Often when transportation systems are designed, young women are not at the table and do not have the opportunity to voice their concerns. This is the case in cities across the globe. But young women like Aneeka are skillfully changing this norm and we are so proud to support their actions.

Sifat, Bangladesh

“I have a dream of a world where no one is treated differently or becomes a victim of violence just because of their gender.”

Sifat is 22 and has been a champion of children’s rights issues since 2009, when he started with the National Children’s Task Force in Bangladesh. Since then, his activism has spanned to working with Youth for Change with Plan International and on the UN Youth Advisory Panel.

Sifat’s activism is focused on ending child marriage and all forms of gender-based violence. He is an initiating member of the Youth Change Makers Coalition in Bangladesh. He has also been instrumental in bringing about reforms to Bangladesh’s 2017 Child Marriage Restraint Act, organizing community-based research studies and high level, youth-led roundtables on child marriage with INGOs and government officials.

Each year, approximately 12 million girls under 18 will be married. That’s nearly 1 girl every 2 seconds.

Through his grassroots work, Sifat has been active in preventing at least 13 child marriages in rural Bangladesh.

As a male, Sifat believes it is ‘even more’ important to work on gender issues and is dedicated to being an ally in the fight for gender equality.

Hope for the future

We remain in awe of all the things that youth are able to accomplish and the change they’re able to influence with a bit of support and education. In Plan International’s mission to advance children’s rights and equality for girls, youth remain our greatest hope for a better world.