The power and potential of girls is extraordinary. When gender equality is within their reach, the future is theirs for the taking. But often, gender inequality is so entrenched, that girls are ignored, excluded and held back from the chance to overcome it. Which is why it’s so important for allies – who hold the power to speak out or even stand aside – to recognise their position to help ignite change so that girls can claim their rightful place as equals.
Meet some of the allies who are supporting change for girls.
Vijay, 41, father of Komal, 19, Delhi
“I came under tremendous pressure from my relatives and the local community for letting Komal get a job. It wasn’t easy. But I wanted to stand by my daughter.”
Vijay’s 19-year-old daughter Komal lives with her parents and two younger siblings in a slum resettlement neighbourhood in Delhi. Komal works at a global fast food store a few kilometres from home. For Vijay, and Komal’s mother Malti it was a big decision for Komal to be able to go to work – one that was unpopular with the community. But for Vijay it was immensely important for his daughter to have opportunities that he did not.
“I was orphaned at a very young age and was brought up by my uncle. I missed the opportunity to get an education which I’ve regretted all my life. I learned to work with machines and tools on the job as I grew up but lost out on several opportunities to progress as I had no formal qualifications.
“Despite all the technical skills I have, I still only earn about 350 Indian Rupees (little over 5 USD) a day on the days I can find work.
“This is why when I had my own children I was determined to give them a good education as far I could within my means. I did not want there to be a difference between my boy and my two girls. I sent them all to school.
“When I saw women in higher positions during my various jobs, I always dreamt of my own daughters one day becoming professionals.”
“It’s not easy in our society for parents to send their daughters to work. It’s particularly hard for me as it’s traditionally a man’s role. But I’m prepared to support my daughter as I don’t want her to live through the challenges that my wife and I have experienced in raising our family. I also realise that through education you can achieve anything and be equal to anyone.
“We are regularly reminded to get Komal married by neighbours and relatives, but I have assured my daughter that it won’t happen unless she is ready. I want to her to be successful and have a career.”
Alemayehu, 14, Ethiopia
“I have four older sisters and one of them had such a hard delivery that she almost died. The traditional circumciser in our village has performed FMG on all my big sisters.”
Before joining a boys’ club run by Plan international Alemayehu didn’t know much about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), except that it was something that should be done but that as a result it can make childbirth difficult. As part of the club he and other club member discuss harmful practices and spread the word to their friends.
“At times, it feels awkward to speak about FGM as a boy. It used to be unacceptable, and the topic was a complete taboo. But I pluck up courage from the thought that if I and other boys stay silent, our sisters and friends will die.
“As I have spoken against FGM, my parents have started to listen to me and changed their minds. They have regretted what they did and promised that my fifth sister will not have FGM.”
Jhony, 18, Brazil
“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 grew up in a poor community in the state of Maranhão in the Northeast region of Brazil. Raised by a single mother who feel pregnant as a teenager and his grandmother, two strong women, from an early age he observed the challenges that women have to face every day.
Jhony first came into contact with Plan International Brazil when he was a teenager after joining the Healthy Adolescent Programme, 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 realise that my community had a lot of problems and gave me the information I needed to try to change this.”
After watching his mother and grandmother struggle in a macho world, he decided to join one of our gender equality programmes, taking part in workshops and training sessions to develop the skills and knowledge he needed to become a young leader engaged with the rights of girls and women and the fight for gender equality.
Many of the conversations he had with his peers at the programme, continued at home with his family, at school with his teachers and in conversations with friends, Jhony passed on everything he heard. Thanks to him, people in his community began talking about safe sex, sexual abuse and women’s rights.
“What I learnt were valuable messages that I took and still take to my community.”
Fatoumata, 55, Mali
“I don’t think it’s normal for a woman not to enjoy sex. It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman, once you are married both of you should have pleasure in bed. But, of course, there will always be men who think that it’s not necessary for a woman to have pleasure.”
It’s been 12 years since a girl in Fatouma’s family was cut. Her daughter was having marital troubles, her husband preferred sleeping with his other wife who was uncut. One of the results of FGM can be that women don’t enjoy sex and can’t achieve orgasm.
“It’s something I decided myself, without involving my husband. The first girls in our family not to be cut were married without finding it difficult to find a suitable husband. Men don’t care these days.”
“A girl who hasn’t been cut won’t get a husband. That’s what people used to say around here. We now know that this is untrue. There are other ethnic groups in Mali that do not practice female genital cutting and the men and women of these groups just get married!”
As far as Fatoumata is concerned, her granddaughter will not be cut. The family hopes that by the time she has children herself, the tradition will be eradicated.