Sumita, a 17-year-old from Nepal, recalled the role of girls immediately following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated the country last April.
“As girls, we did not feel included,” she said. “No one asked for our opinion.”
With the help of Plan International, however, that situation is changing.
The 2015 earthquake in Nepal had a major impact on women and girls. With hundreds and thousands of latrines, canals, and toilets destroyed, lack of water, and poor living conditions, many of these women and girls did not have the privacy they needed, which ultimately had a tremendous impact on both their personal hygiene, and their security.
“All of the houses collapsed and there was no school,” said 16-year-old Shirisha. “We were sharing spaces and had no privacy.”
Recognizing that young adolescent girls aged 12-18 were not actively participating in protection services being offered at the community level, Plan International set up Adolescent-Friendly Spaces throughout Nepal. These safe spaces enabled young girls to come together to share their challenges, discuss private issues, and seek counseling and support from a trained female facilitator.
These spaces also enabled girls to learn about the serious protection risks that they face in the wake of a disaster, including increased risk of child marriage, trafficking, sexual abuse, and exploitation. Each Adolescent-Friendly Space would bring together about 23 girls – married and unmarried, and some pregnant or with young children.
Away from their partners, parents, and in-laws, over a five-month period, these girls got together to discuss issues ranging from sexual and reproductive health, family planning, and girls’ rights.
Here are five young girls who are learning that, despite being in the midst of destruction and despair, being a young girl means that their rights to protection, choice, and an education remain stronger than ever.
“Whatever I learned, my family thought it was nonsense, but learning about reproductive health means that we can start thinking about family planning.
“It is important that everyone attends these classes, especially our mothers-in-law. They think about their sons only and do not think we should ask for our rights. If the community learns about the rights of girls, then people will change.
“Being a girl, we can lead the community. Our Nepal prime minister is a female and an example to us. My family does not support my studies, but I want to prove to them that I can succeed.”
“If you get married early, then you may not practice safe sex and you will likely contract diseases. Marriage becomes an obstacle, because you can’t move forward when you get married young.
“I do not want to have another baby. I want to be the best mother for my baby now and focus on her growth and development, but I want to wait before thinking about another child. I try and defend my reasoning for not having sex, but sometimes, my husband is not convinced.
“Being a girl, I am able to go to school, because my older brother is funding my studies. Moving forward, we want to learn new skills, so that people will not want to go abroad – they will want to stay in Nepal.
“When I am older, I want to be a journalist. I want to explore the real facts and issues and make sure we are not punishing innocent people. I want to make sure people have a voice and the real situations are being seen.”
“Before, we did not have confidence, due to how we were treated. Even in our education, we did not feel that we were treated equally. Now we can go to school and feel the same as boys.”
“We are all equal and we all have the right to make our own choice."
“Whatever we learn about reproductive health, we should be able to do in practice. The boys should acknowledge these issues and not force us to have sex and do things we do not want to do.”
“Being a girl during the earthquake was difficult. All of the houses collapsed and there was no school. We were sharing spaces and had no privacy.
“During our menstruation, we felt so uncomfortable. The good thing that came from the earthquake is that before, we had to go to the goat shed during our menstruation time. Now after the earthquake, we can remain in the same house as our family (as we all share one space).
“We can even enter the kitchen and interact with the family. We just can’t go to any religious places.”