Sadia Allin’s most vivid memory is her most painful.
She was 5 years old, playing outside with her younger sisters, when suddenly her mother and aunts called her into the house. She stood before them, and they immediately pinned her to the ground. “This is our tradition,” they told her. “Hold still.”
Her family cut her — she underwent female genital mutilation (FGM) with no warning or understanding of what they were doing to her body.
“I felt so powerless,” Sadia says. “I felt the lower part of my body wasn’t part of me anymore. They stuffed a cloth in my mouth because it was shameful to cry.”
The pain Sadia felt was her turning point. After that day, she refused to let her sisters or other girls experience what she had. She was determined to get an education and create change for girls in her community. And she did.
Today, Sadia is the head of mission for Plan International Somalia. Achieving equality for all girls in her country is a difficult feat — still, one that she’s never given up on. But now that Somalia is battling COVID-19, Sadia is extremely concerned that pre-existing challenges for girls, like FGM and child marriage, are going to amplify.
The injustices that girls face are only heightened in an emergency like COVID-19. If a girl has to stop going to school because of COVID-19, it’s likely that she’ll never return, and she might be forced into child labor or child marriage to ease her family’s financial struggles. Staying at home means she’s more vulnerable to domestic violence, abuse and neglect. Attention toward combating coronavirus means less attention toward her protection and rights.
“This is a terrifying time for us all, but it’s also a test for humanity,” Sadia says. “The situation can get much worse if we don’t act now and act fast.”
Hear from Sadia on the impact of COVID-19 on girls and young women in Somalia, as well as Plan’s response:
Change is possible, with your support. We can’t go backward on the progress you’ve made in supporting vulnerable girls — girls who are facing challenges just like Sadia’s. We can’t forget about the inequalities that are only worsening for girls because of this pandemic. Now more than ever, we need to continue our work to advance girls’ rights across the world. The only way forward is together — with no one left behind.