This is Khadyja’s story.
Khadyja is 23 years old and lives in a suburb of Dakar, Senegal.
Her community is on lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stuck at home, Khadyja decided to log on to Plan International’s Girls Out Loud online forum, which provides a safe virtual space for girls and young women to discuss the challenges they’re facing.
The topic on everybody’s mind: COVID-19.
Girls and young women are always disproportionately impacted by health emergencies. That fact quickly became clear to Khadyja. She also realized that there was a serious lack of awareness on how to prevent the spread of disease. Many of her own neighbors even denied the existence of COVID-19 and weren’t taking proper precautions. If things didn’t change, and the number of cases continued to rise, what would happen to girls like her?
Khadyja decided something had to be done. And she wasn’t going to wait for anyone else to do it.
That’s the day she became an activist.
Khadyja started dedicating her time to raising awareness about COVID-19 on social media. Through images and videos, Khadyja is explaining the essential protection measures needed to keep everybody safe and healthy.
“My main weapons: my smartphone and my voice,” Khadyja says. “It is important for me that my voice and actions encourage people to implement individual and collective prevention measures."
Khadyja is also advocating for the importance of protecting girls from all forms of violence during the pandemic. “Girls should not be impacted by the health situation we are experiencing in Senegal. We can help our communities stop the spread of this virus! We can do it! We have the tools! We have the will!"
Khadyja’s passionate activism has made her a respected voice in her community. And now the powers that be are listening, too. She was invited by her district administration to join a COVID-19 action committee so that youth voices are represented and girls’ needs are prioritized.
Khadyja is an example of what happens when a girl is armed with education, confidence and a platform to use her voice. She’s powerful, and she’s lifting up those around her.
It’s important to remember that while millions of girls are facing unfair challenges and inequality, and in some places, suffering unbearable injustices, that’s not their whole story. Girls are not just victims. They’re fighters, changemakers, activists and leaders.
There are girls like Khadyja all over the world — maybe even in your own community. It’s time we all look for them, listen to them and amplify their voices. Because when they are heard, they can move mountains.
Girls and women are on the front lines of fighting for racial equality today. Get to know these up-and-coming young leaders in five cities across the U.S.