Irlane: "Girls often drop out of school in Maranhão"
Poverty is a major challenge in Irlane’s community in Maranhão, Brazil. Many girls in Brazil feel there’s little opportunity, so they work on the streets to make ends meet or take on chores at home.
“Maranhão is still a poor state,” says Irlane,16. “Girls often stop going to school because they have to help their family at home or they go and work on the street, selling things.”
Irlane is committed to addressing discrimination and is well aware of the importance of accepting others and respecting diversity among people.
With the support of Plan International, she has been working with a group of girl advocates from across Brazil to raise awareness of some of the issues facing girls.
“I want to see this situation change and I want to make sure me and my family live in better conditions.”
Luiza: "Most of the girls here have no education"
“The reality of living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is really sad. Two days ago, a girl’s body was found, dumped in a garbage bag near here. She lived on my street,” says Luiza,16. “My cousin has been raped and I’ve been robbed several times. Once I was robbed just outside my house at noon.”
It’s not easy being a girl in Rio de Janeiro and, unfortunately, violence, patriarchy and machismo are just a daily part of life in her community.
“The education in schools here is so weak. I want to change everything. Most of the girls here have no education and this ends up causing problems such as teenage pregnancy,” says Luiza.
With the support of Plan International, Luiza has been campaigning to ensure that girls’ rights firmly find a place in the Sustainable Development Goals.
As a committed feminist who challenges girls’ place in society, Luiza is determined to confront these challenges head on. She is not shy or ashamed to express herself – whether that be through her campaigning work or in her rock band.
Antonina: "Girls rights and voices should be listened to and respected"
“Girls should be allowed to participate in all activities,” says Antonina, 17, who hails from a small district in west Kenya. “Yet, we are often made to do domestic chores which prevents us from enjoying the same opportunities as boys.”
Girls in Antonina’s community in Kenya face many challenges, such as violence, discrimination and lack of access to essential items such as sanitary products.
“Violence is a persistent problem in my community. Many young people are fearful of reporting crimes, which makes it hard to tackle the problem,” she says.
While school attendance is slowly rising, when girls are menstruating many of them choose to stay at home because they are embarrassed or because there is a lack of adequate facilities at their school.
“Girls in my community do not have access to proper sanitary towels, especially those from poor areas. They have to use unhygienic materials or stay at home during menstruation, which means they are missing out on an education.”
Together with Plan International, Antonina is raising awareness of issues facing girls, such as violence and sexual and reproductive health.
“I would like my community to be free, open and ready to embrace change. I want to see a world where everyone is equal. Girls rights and voices should be listened to and respected because they also deserve justice.”
Jacinta: "It breaks my heart to see the pain we undergo as girls"
Jacinta lives close to the east coast of Kenya. Her father died when she was younger and her mother had to raise her alone.
In Jacinta’s community, poverty is rife and it prevents children from attending school. According to Jacinta, this has led to a spike in child marriage.
“Families often take their adolescent daughters out of school to get married to secure a dowry. They think this will help lift them out of poverty,” she says.
Poverty has also led to girls and young women Jacinta’s age dropping out of school to use their bodies to earn an income, which can put them at risk of HIV and Aids.
“It breaks my heart to see the pain we undergo as girls. We need to be valued as much as boys, and families must invest in our education.”
With the support of Plan International, Jactina is determined to change the way people think in her community. Together with a group of girl campaigners, she is advocating to end discrimination against girls and end harmful practices such as child marriage. Passionate about education, she hopes to become a lawyer and continue to work towards gender equality in her country.
Sana: "I want to open a centre for girls who aren’t allowed to go to school"
Sana, 17, wants girls to be able to go to school in Pakistan and it must be made a priority.
“Once girls reach grade 5, they leave school because their families think they should get married. Some families don’t even want their daughters to leave home after they reach adolescence,” she says.
In her spare time, Sana teaches English, plus she is part of the Student Representative Council, which is working to convince families to send their daughters to school. “So far, we have helped increase girls’ enrolment at their school from 50 to 150 in 2 years,” she says.
Sana is committed to ensuring all girls have the right to education. So far, with the support of Plan International, Sana and her peers have addressed the prime minister of Pakistan on the issue of girls’ rights. Next, she will be attending the UN General Assembly in New York, where she will be calling for world leaders to prioritise girls’ education.
Darakhshan: "My cousin got married when she was 12"
Child marriage is common in Darakhshan’s community in Pakistan - and it often puts an end to girls’ education.
“My cousin got married aged 12. Her parents passed away and her grandfather thought it’d be better if she got married. Another friend married when she was 17 and she no longer goes to school.”
Darakhshan, 14, is determined to make education her priority and is counting on the support of her family.
“In my family, girls are very important – we do the same things with boys and girls,” she says. “Families have a major impact over whether girls go to school. I am lucky, my mother went to school and college and now she teaches other children.”
Darakhshan will be caling for world leaders at the UN to prioritise girls’ education. When she returns, Darakhshan wants to go to college, study science and become an army doctor.
Nurfahada: "I always feel like I am in danger"
Violence is common in Mindanao, Philippines, where 16-year-old Nurfahada lives.
“Girls in my community face constant danger and violence. It happens in my village and it happens at my school. I always feel like I am in danger. In my opinion, it’s because we are less valued than boys. Girls are expected to stay home and do all the chores .This leads to a lack of confidence which, to me, is fundamentally unfair.”
Nurfahada is determined to make a change and to tell the world why violence against girls shouldn’t take place.
“I want to show leaders, no matter their background or personality, why girls’ voices must be heard and why we must be recognised as potential leaders in our communities and beyond,” she says.
“All I want is for girls and boys to be seen as equal in all aspects of life, such as work, [and their] talent. I want people and governments to recognise the importance of girls in the world.”
Lindsay: "I feel more vulnerable now I’ve moved to Manila"
“I feel more vulnerable now I’ve moved to Manila. The city feels dangerous, especially for girls,” says Lindsay, 16, who recently moved from a small province to the capital of the Philippines.
“There is a very different attitude to sex here. In Manila, sex is normal, while in the province it is much more sacred,” she explains. “I’ve seen school friends fall pregnant and drop out of school.”
The aspiring journalist dreams of working and living in a safe and supportive society for girls and young women and she’s determined to use the opportunities living in Manila brings with it. For Lindsay, listening to the voices of young women and girls and raising awareness about these issues is the key to overcoming these challenges.
Lindsay is part of a group of young women and girls from across the Philippines advocating for girls’ rights to be part of the new Sustainable Development Agenda. She hopes to inspire and encourage others like her to campaign for girls’ rights.
“I am looking forward to spending my life on [working towards] a safer place and in crime-free community. Girls can change the world for the better,” she says.
Ghene: "I know I have the potential, just like other girls here"
“My friend fell pregnant when she was 17. She was forced to go and live with the father and she eventually dropped out school,” reveals Ghene, 14. “Life is tough for her now, she’s just not old enough to be in this situation.”
Teenage pregnancy and violence against girls is common in Ghene’s community in the north of the Philippines.
“Girls are more vulnerable in this community. There are many traditional beliefs that place more importance on boys than girls - and we are not as valued as our male peers.”
A committed girls’ rights advocate, Ghene wants to change the reality for girls in her community and around the country. “Sometimes I feel discouraged, but I know I have the potential just like other girls here. I want the world to stand up and ensure there are specific services for girls in place.”
The budding social worker wants to ensure girls can secure their rights, particularly to an education.
“Girls are humans too and we have rights. If this is respected, it will both benefit girls and the people,” she says.
Read more about the girl advocates at the United Nations