Girls today are more confident and have access to more skills and education compared to previous generations. They enjoy more rights and better protection. Many girls can now participate in different programmes, attend forums and can raise their voices. But these opportunities are only available to girls in certain areas and even where girls can participate, in many cases girls’ decisions and voices are not valued by society and decision makers.
For example, in my community a group of children’s rights advocates spreads messages on the right to education, to be free from sexual violence and stopping child marriage. Girls know about the negative impacts of child marriage and are aware of where they can get support if they are victims of child marriage. Parents also know that child marriage is prohibited and punishable by law and our government knows they need to stop child marriage. However, a culture of impunity towards child marriage exists. Parents think that marriage is a safeguard against sexual harassment. They fear that their daughters will miss the opportunity to find a suitable husband and don’t want to pay the expenses of a girl’s higher studies. So parents try to convince girls to get married and don’t listen to their voices.
I want to share my personal experiences. My relative’s 13 year old daughter is really beautiful. Her parents worried about sexual harassment she faced on her way to school and feared for their family honor. When she did not get a good result in her exams, her parents discouraged her from studying and arranged a marriage for her instead.
My family also tried to marry me off when I was 14, saying that when I got older they wouldn’t be able to find a groom and would have to pay a dowry.
Adults are too focused on their own interests but we girls and young women want to see our problems tackled.
When a girl raises her voice against sexual harassment in school, instead of taking action teachers try to hide the issue in case it reflects poorly on their institutions. When a girl protests against marriage her family isolates her. Local governments are aware of girls’ problems, but they don’t want to talk about it as it might affect their support. Adults are too focused on their own interests but we girls and young women want to see our problems tackled.
So the question for me is what does society want from girls? They don’t listen to us, they consider us a burden and think they can take decisions on our behalf. Girls’ decisions about their lives and their profession are still not listened to.
Girls should have the information and life skills needed to be more confident.
I work to ensure girls know about their rights and raise their voices. But I also want parents and teachers to highlight girls’ potential and encourage them to dream. Girls should have the information and life skills needed to be more confident. All those who are in a position of power should make a commitment to girls’ rights and to respect girls’ voices in order to make girls’ empowerment possible.