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Girls who made their mark in 2016

Girls from around the world have made their presence felt by standing up for their rights. Here’s a run-down of some of the inspirational girls and young women who made a positive difference in 2016.

1. Kiran, India – Stopped child marriage in her community 

Kiran worked with her peers to end child marriage in her community
Kiran worked with her peers to end child marriage in her community.

Having seen numerous friends get married before they were ready, Kiran decided she would put her energies into putting a stop to child marriage for good. 

Following advocacy training from Plan International, Kiran and her friends from the girls’ club began advocating within their community, calling for an end to child marriage.

As a result of their efforts, village elders announced that they would not allow any more child marriages. Well done, girls! 

2. Maria Fernanda, Brazil – Educating teens on sexual and reproductive rights 

Maria Fernanda raises her voice to educate girls and end violence against women
Maria Fernanda raises her voice to educate girls and end violence against women.

Maria Fernanda, 18, has participated in Plan International programmes since she was 14 years old and from the start has shown great leadership skills. She started in the Young Health Programme as part of the drama group that visited schools around her city talking to teens about their sexual and reproductive rights. 

Maria regularly speaks out on girls’ rights and is passionate about ending violence against girls and women: “Violence against girls and women needs to stop. Every day we face prejudice and we are excluded from society. It’s about time our voices were heard."

In 2016, she was part of the Leadership School for Girls, joining in with the global movement Girls Takeover, occupying the chair for the state secretariat of Public Policies for Women during the International Day of the Girl.

3. Masline, Zimbabwe – Speaking out on gender equality

Masline believes in speaking out on girls' rights in Zimbabwe
Masline believes in speaking out on girls' rights in Zimbabwe.

Masline is a dedicated student and head girl at her high school near Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. She is a member of Plan International’s Girls Empowerment programme, where she was one of the first of 50 girl ambassadors to be elected to represent girls in her town to speak out on girls’ rights. 

Thanks to her education, Masline is fortunate that the future ahead is a promising one. But the reality is that millions of girls globally leave school because of early marriage, pregnancy or violence, and that they are invisible to governments and policy makers. Plan International is working to make the realities of girls lives visible so they can be counted, changed and more like Masline’s.  

4. Nadia Murad Basee Taha – Human rights activist 

Nadia Murad Basee Taha, 21, is a Yazidi human rights activist. In August 2014, after witnessing the execution of her family members by ISIS in Iraq, she was kidnapped and endured severe beatings and brutal rape on a daily basis. 

Nadia managed to escape, and fled to Germany where she sought treatment and reunited with other survivors. Through her activist work*, she is now a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and the first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Rights Trafficking of the United Nations.

5. Rinja, Indonesia – Fighting for the rights of disabled children 

Rinja (front, centre) advocates for the rights of children with disabilities
Rinja (front, centre) advocates for the rights of children with disabilities.

Three years ago, Rinja, 17, from Indonesia contracted a fever that left her paralysed and wheelchair bound. In one short moment, her life changed forever. Confined to her bed for a year, she was forced to drop out of school. 

Rinja is now happy to be back in education, and is proud to be an impassioned youth advocate for the rights of children with disabilities in Indonesia.

“I wanted to give up, and did not want to return to school. But I felt embarrassed knowing that if I left school altogether, I would be seen as being just the dumb and disabled girl.”

Rinja is aware of the challenges in her community, but she is determined to improve the status of disabled children and young people in her district to ensure that they receive the same opportunities as everyone else.

6. Odelia, Timor-Leste – An advocate for equal rights 

Odelia joined girls and women to lead the first ever Girls' Conference in Timor-Leste
Odelia joined girls and women to lead the first ever Girls' Conference in Timor-Leste.

Dressed in a traditional Timorese ‘tais’, 17-year-old Odelia joined 250 girls and women at Timor-Leste’s first ever Girls’ Conference in June 2016. The conference held numerous workshops which enabled girls to develop action plans for education, health, protection and their participation in community and government decisions. These plans will form part of a larger girls’ declaration.

Odelia attended the conference because she believes that girls should have equal rights. If she was President of Timor-Leste Odelia says she would tackle gender inequality. 

“I’d call all the women of Timor-Leste together and show that they can do anything. But my first priority would be to focus on stopping violence against women, which is a big problem in my country.” 

7. Yusra Mardini – Syrian refugee who swam in the Olympics

A year and a half ago, Yusra Mardini, now 18, along with her sister and another strong swimmer, saved the lives of 20 people after getting their sinking boat to land in the Aegean Sea. Those on board couldn't swim, and the swimmers pushed their dinghy to shore for 3 hours, while stopping it from capsizing. 

Now based in Berlin, Yusra went on to join a team of 10 refugee Olympic athletes in Rio during the summer games and won her 100m butterfly heat.

8. Jacqueline, Uganda – Escaping sex work to become an electrician

Jacqueline escaped sex work to become an electrician
Jacqueline escaped sex work to become an electrician.

Jacqueline, 18, lives in Kampala, Uganda. When she was 11, she moved to the city, where she was forced to become a sex worker for 7 years. “The youngest girl who worked there was 9,” reveals Jaqueline. “They wanted girls who were young as their bodies were free from diseases such as HIV.”

Jaqueline heard about the Plan International-supported PEVUS project last year. The PEVUS Project works with young women to educate them on their rights and the importance of sexual health. It also provides tools to help them learn a skill or vocation so they can make money without having to sell their young bodies. 

“I’m now a peer educator for PEVUS. I visit young girls who are engaged in sex work to tell them about the dangers of it,” says Jaqueline, who is also a mum of one. As well as looking out for other young women, Jaqueline has also learnt a new trade – she’s training to become an electrician. 

9. Reshma Qureshi, India – Campaigner and acid attack survivor 

Reshma Qureshi*,19, survived an acid attack 2 years ago and this year went on to walk in a show at New York Fashion Week.

Reshma has inspired others who have been affected by acid attacks to move on with their lives through her campaign work. “What happened to us is not our fault and we’ve done nothing wrong and so we should also move forward in life,” she said before appearing on the catwalk in September this year.

“The advice I have for you is to fight – study with all your might. I know studying isn’t easy but you must force yourself because those studies are your only hope.”

10. Juliana, Paraguay – Raising awareness of an overlooked community  

Juliana tells the Mayor of Paraguay about the challenges faced in her community
Juliana tells the Mayor of Paraguay about the challenges faced in her community.

On International Day of the Girl, Juliana, 12, became the voice of her community through Plan International’s Day of the Girl activities. 

Her Girls Takeover event on 11 October - one of 40 that happened in Paraguay - grabbed national headlines as she raised awareness about her overlooked community. On the day she was formally inaugurated as Mayor by the Municipality of Asuncion.

“I felt a bit shy,” she shares. “But I told the Mayor and the Municipality about the floods and the suffering girls face in my community.”

During the takeover, she ensured the Mayor signed a declaration pledging to uphold girls’ rights, improve schools, and uphold equal opportunities for children and adolescents.

11. Shrijana, Nepal – The first female mason to rebuild her community 

Shrijana is proud to rebuild her community after the Nepal earthquake
Shrijana is proud to rebuild her community after the Nepal earthquake.

When a massive earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015, Shrijana and her family were working near her home. Their home was heavily damaged, as was many others in the community, and the family lost most of their food, clothing and household items. 

She learned about Plan International’s masonry training through her community and asked that she be included. Shrijana would be the youngest female mason to join the programme in her village.

“I have gained such confidence, because I know I can do good things as a girl. Even though I face barriers, the mason training made me feel like a better person. I understood that women were able to do what men could do,” says Shrijana. 

12. Kiara Nirghin, South Africa - Innovates the developing world with her award-winning science project

16-year-old a South African schoolgirl Kiara won the grand prize* at Google's science fair for using orange peel to develop a cheap super-absorbent material to help soil retain water. 

Kiara developed the substance in response to the recent drought of South Africa. 

The student was awarded the prize at the annual fair in California and says she hopes it will help farmers save money and crops.

13. Sajju, Nepal – Standing in for the President  

Sajju presented a plan of action to support girls to the Nepali president
Sajju presented a plan of action to support girls to the Nepali president.

On 5th October 2016, Sajju, 17, took over the role of the President of Nepal to raise the voices of girls and demonstrate that girls’ leadership can become a reality.  

During the session, as President she presented a plan of action focussing on the issues faced by girls in Nepal and the solutions needed to solve them. 

"I think access to education is the biggest concern that many girls are facing. If girls are educated, they can change society," she says. "Having female leadership in all sectors is very important so that both males and females can work together to develop our country." 

The plan was handed over to the President of Nepal, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, at an event attended by prominent parliamentarians, government high-level officials and civil society leaders and representatives. 

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