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Youth & Economic Empowerment

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 an introduction to some of the inspirational girls and young women who stood up for girls’ rights and gender equality during the last year. Each proves that when a girl is empowered, #SheWill achieve incredible things.

KIRAN, INDIA – STOPPED CHILD MARRIAGE IN HER COMMUNITY

Girls like Kiran are preventing child marriages in their communities.

Having seen numerous friends get married before they were ready, Kiran decided she would focus her energy on stopping 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, village elders announced they would not allow any more child marriages.

MARIA, BRAZIL – EDUCATING TEENS ON SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

Maria, 18, passionately advocates for girls' rights.

Maria, 18, has participated in Plan programs since she was 14 years old and from the beginning showed great leadership skills. She started in the Young Health Program 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,” she said. “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 International Day of the Girl.

MASLINE, ZIMBABWE – SPEAKING OUT ON GENDER EQUALITY

Masline advocates for girls' rights in her community.

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

Thanks to her education, Masline’s future is promising. But the reality is that millions of girls globally leave school because of early marriage, pregnancy, or violence. They are often 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.

NADIA MURAD BASEE TAHA, IRAQ – 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.

RINJA, INDONESIA – FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHTS OF DISABLED CHILDREN

Rinja is advocating on behalf of disabled children and youth in Indonesia.

Three years ago, 17-year-old Rinja, from Indonesia, contracted a fever that left her paralyzed and in a wheelchair. 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 pursuing her education again, and she 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,” she said. “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.

ODELIA, TIMOR-LESTE – AN ADVOCATE FOR EQUAL RIGHTS

Odelia is committed to ending the practice of violence against women 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 hosted numerous workshops that enabled girls to develop action plans for education, health, protection, and 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 said she would tackle gender inequality.

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

YUSRA MARDINI, SYRIA – 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 three 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.

JACQUELINE, UGANDA – ESCAPING SEX WORK TO BECOME AN ELECTRICIAN

Jacqueline educates her peers on women's rights and the importance of sexual health.

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 seven years.

“The youngest girl who worked there was 9,” said 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 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 mother. As well as looking out for other young women, Jaqueline has also learned a new trade – she’s training to become an electrician.

RESHMA QURESHI, INDIA – CAMPAIGNER AND ACID ATTACK SURVIVOR

Reshma Qureshi,19, survived an acid attack two 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.”

JULIANA, PARAGUAY – RAISING AWARENESS FOR AN OVERLOOKED COMMUNITY

Juliana encouraged her mayor to pass legislation that protects girls' rights 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 October 11 – one of 40 that happened in Paraguay – grabbed national headlines when 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 said. “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 support equal opportunities for children and adolescents.

SHRIJANA, NEPAL – THE FIRST FEMALE MASON TO REBUILD HER COMMUNITY

Shrijana was one of many girls who received masonry training through Plan International.

When a massive earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015, Shrijana and her family were working near her home, which was heavily damaged along with many others in the community. 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 program in her village.

“I have gained such confidence, because I know I can do good things as a girl,” she said. “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.”

KIARA NIRGHIN, SOUTH AFRICA - INNOVATES THE DEVELOPING WORLD WITH HER AWARD-WINNING SCIENCE PROJECT

Sixteen-year-old 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 in 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.

SAJJU, NEPAL – STANDING IN FOR THE PRESIDENT

On October 5, Sajju stood in for the President of Nepal, proving that girls can lead.

On October 5, 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 her term as president, she presented a plan of action focusing 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,” she said. “If girls are educated, they can change society. 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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