International Day of the Girl Child 2020
On this International Day of the Girl Child, as the world continues to grapple with the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re drawing strength and inspiration from the powerful voices of girl leaders who are rising up in these difficult times to transform their lives, families, and communities — and our world!
Since 2018, Rise Up has partnered with the Center for the Study of Adolescence, investing in Masai girl leaders in Kenya to strengthen their leadership, advocacy, and impact through our global Girls’ Voices Initiative. These girl leaders are creating change, speaking out, and mobilizing their communities to bring an end to female genital mutilation and child marriage, so that girls in Kenya can continue their education and fulfill their dreams.
Read on to hear from these powerful Rise Up Girl Leaders — in their own voices — about their inspiration to create change, their reflections on this moment of crisis and opportunity, and their vision for the future.
Leader responses have been edited for length and clarity.
“I was trained as a Girl Leader in the Girls’ Voices Initiative and I have been speaking up for girls’ rights since. I have been working to stop female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage, and teenage pregnancies, and empowering other girls to do the same. I am very passionate about this because I know that once girls are educated and empowered they can change the world. Girls were not put on this earth to be invisible and not heard. Our voices are powerful and when used, can change our community and the world.
The coronavirus has changed a lot within the community. Schools are closed and people are not allowed to hold any meetings or events because they want to avoid people getting infected. Because of this, most girls are at home with nowhere to go, and parents are taking advantage by making their girls go through FGM under the cover of night. They know no one will do anything because the focus is on controlling the spread of COVID-19.
As girl leaders, we talked to village elders and the chiefs and they committed to ensure girls do not undergo FGM in this community. We need them to respect their commitment and make sure this practice is stopped, especially at this time. As they look at stopping the spread of the coronavirus, they also should look at stopping FGM within our community. We also need to ask the pastors to talk to parents and our elders and tell them the harmful effects of FGM on girls. Parents also need to know that when girls are not cut and are allowed to continue with their education, they will become teachers, doctors, or lawyers, which benefits their home and community. When you invest in a girl it lifts up the entire community and country.
I know it is difficult for girls to speak up especially if they are scared that they will not be accepted by the community. But I would just like to tell the girls to speak up for their rights and join the girl movement in Kajiado to stop FGM. I would also like to speak to the chief and village elders again to ensure they respect the commitment made to stop FGM in our community.”
“I was inspired to work on issues affecting girls in my community because I found this to be the only way of saving girls from harmful traditional practices like forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Girls who are forced to undergo FGM may in turn get into relationships and marriages early because they are now considered adults. They also get pregnant early and this could affect their health because girls are not meant to give birth at an early age. All these issues can then cause girls to drop out of school and leave them unable to achieve their potential.
I have heard about the coronavirus from the radio and at this time, the government has closed schools, so children are at home and are not able to learn and have a lot of time on their hands. The efforts of the government and health officials at this time are to stop the spread of coronavirus, and no one is paying attention to other issues like teenage pregnancy, which is on the rise.
I think parents should start talking about these issues with their children and also help us as girl leaders to ask the government to ensure that sex education is taught to all children to help them make informed decisions.”
“I have been educating girls in the community about their rights and speaking up to our leaders within the community to commit to protect girls’ rights.
Girls in our community are getting married when they are very young, which is not good for them. Some girls have been forced to get married especially after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) because they are considered women and because the parents will receive a dowry, which will help them financially. All these girls are in need of protection because they have not yet reached the appropriate age to get married.
I think it is increasing at this time because everyone wants to stop the coronavirus spreading and is not paying attention to the issues affecting girls.
Parents should ensure their girls go to school and finish their education and get jobs so they can support themselves — then they will choose if, when, and who to marry. The chiefs and leaders within the community should educate the community about the laws that protect girls from being married young.
Girls have a right to choose if, who, and when to marry and I would like to ask our leaders to protect this right and implement the policies that are in place to protect this right.”