GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable – the theme of this year’s UN International Day of the Girl Child sounds a bit like an alternative title for Diana of Therymiscia (better known as Wonder Woman). And there could definitely be worse role models than her for girls around the world.
There are very particular strengths and challenges that come with being female. Perhaps the reason girls love Wonder Woman so much, is because she possesses a power to overcome which does not deny these, but instead celebrates her femininity. Her constant struggles and greatest superpowers are wrapped in a deep – and very feminine – version of empathy. In spite of what hurts her, she has the courage to take what is in her hands and stand up for all that is good.
Education. Freedom. Protection. The right to be heard. They may not look quite like superpowers and a golden lasso, but when we place these tools to transform lives into the hands of girls around the world, we create opportunities for them to stand. To change their world. To change the whole world. (Just ask Greta Thunberg.)
The power to change
In the words of the UN, the point of International Day of the Girl Child is ‘to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.’
Here are a few stories of how Tearfund staff and partners are helping see girls empowered to face the challenges in their lives and change not only their own futures, but the lives of those around them.
Ariana* – empowered through education
Ariana is 11. She lives in Afghanistan. She is blind.
She comes from a cultural context which couldn’t see a way for her to have an education because of her disability. Ariana wanted to learn – to have goals and dreams and be significant, but the attitudes of those around her were making her life small.
Then she met teachers from a Tearfund partner who offered lessons for her in her home, and Ariana’s world grew brighter.
It was difficult at first, but Ariana worked hard and now, with the help of those teachers, and despite opposition at every step, she has made it into a regular school and is succeeding. Not only is she transforming her own future but, as she achieves way beyond expectation in her studies, she is altering the perceptions of those around her.
Ariana is educating her whole school, family and community in ways that maths and science couldn’t possibly manage. Not only that, but her ambition is to one day be a school teacher for blind children.
The legacy of Ariana’s empowerment will be the lifting up of others.
Leila* – freedom from sexual oppression
Leila was 14 when the trouble started.
Her family, in Iraq, were living in difficult circumstances after their village was devastated by conflict. In the unstable aftermath, Leila started experiencing a level of sexual harassment from a neighbour that made her life unbearable. She lived in fear and this fear controlled her.
She attempted suicide. Repeatedly.
This continued for three years until she came into contact with a Tearfund project aimed at teaching girls about their rights in the face of sexual and gender-based violence. Here she learnt that what she had experienced was unacceptable, that it wasn’t her fault and that there was help available to her. This gave her the courage to stand up for herself and put a stop to the situation which was causing such trauma in her life.
Not only did the support bring her freedom, but now Leila is teaching her sisters and other girls around her that they too have the right to be safe and protected and to stand up for themselves.
Leila’s own freedom is freeing girls around her.
Maiah* – the right to have a voice
The Rohingya refugee camps are places of poverty and struggle. Many parents, in a desperate bid to provide for their daughters, give them away in marriage aged as young as 12. It can seem like a way to protect them, but in many cases the reality amounts to trafficking and slavery.
Maiah is 13. This was almost her story. She hadn’t thought she would have to face adult things so soon, but Maiah’s parents had arranged for her to become a wife. She didn’t want to leave her friends and family.
Tearfund’s local partner, COAST Trust, run child-friendly spaces in the camp. Maiah had been an enthusiastic attendee at one of these spaces, where she had formed a close relationship with one of the facilitators. When this facilitator, who Maiah called apa (or sister), discovered that Maiah was to be married off, she went to Maiah’s parents and spoke up for her – eventually managing to convince them of the dangers of their decision.
‘I am very happy that I have the chance to attend the centre again,’ says Maiah. ‘I can share with [apa] all the things that I cannot share with anybody else.’
Maiah has learnt that she has the right to a voice and a childhood.
Thank you for the unique beauty of each girl child. Thank you that you love and value every single one. Please will you make a way for them through the challenges they face. We pray that girls all around the world will know their rights and power and that you will help us to work together to protect and uplift girls everywhere.
* All names have been changed to protect identities