Lisa Wilson – Media and Communications Officer
For the 16 Days of Activism we are profiling some of our youth activists who are making an impact in their communities.
From fighting child marriage in Guinea to tackling female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leone, we’ve seen first-hand the power of youth activists in our projects around the world. Young people we work with are fuelled by making change and standing up for their rights in their communities.
“I think education will solve 90 per cent of the problem.”
Uma, 20, escaped child marriage as a teenager and she wants all girls in her district have access to secondary education. This will enable each of them to lead an independent life and reduce the likelihood that they will become victims of violence or child marriage.
“I was able to prevent child marriages, convince early school leavers to go back to school and I give lessons to adults during the evenings.”
“Poverty is one of the reasons that so many young girls in this West African country fall pregnant. “If some guy has a lot of money, that is often seen as a good reason for a girl to have sex with him, with all the associated consequences.
“But the huge taboo surrounding sex, and everything to do with it, also plays a role. In our culture parents don’t talk to their children about sex. Fortunately for me, my parents did. I’m now a proponent of sex education, telling girls that in addition to pleasure it also brings pain, like the repercussions of becoming pregnant when you are very young.”
17-year-old Mellicentia is a member of Plan International’s Girls Advocacy Alliance programme in Sierra Leone. She is lobbying against economic exclusion, sexual violence and teenage pregnancies. In September her fight took her to Geneva, where she impressed the UN Children’s Rights Committee with a rising speech.
“I told my father about all the problems child marriage would cause me and also him. I told him everything I’d learned at school from the peer-to-peer discussion group.”
Yekaba was just 12 years old when she found out her father was planning to marry her off to a man almost twice her age. Despite her young age, she decided to take a stand. She enlisted the help of everyone she could think of in her rural community in northern Ethiopia to persuade her father to cancel the wedding.
Two years in to Plan International’s Girls Advocacy Alliance programme to end child marriage in her area, Yekaba found lots of keen allies willing to support her in her campaigning.
“Sexual harassment starts in the home. Girls learn to respect men and boy, they’re taught they are superior, like they’re overlords. At school we used to be taught that women will grow up to be wives and men to be doctors. Boys grow up and think they have the right to touch girls’ breasts or buttocks – that girls only exist to have children. It means girls think this behaviour is normal unless they’ve been sensitised to know their rights.”
“Since joining Safer Cities for Girls, now I know we’re showing disrespect for our mothers if we disrespect girls.”
21-year-old Muzafar is a member of Plan International’s Safer Cities programme in Uganda. He is Chairman of a Safety Club for boys and holds weekly meetings to teach them about gender equality, smash stereotypes and boys play sports such as football with girls.
“I am totally against the practice of FGM. I only learnt about its negative effects when I went to school. Before that, I thought it was ok.
“I’ve been a mentor in my school for the past year and I really enjoy what I do.
“Previously, it was people from the big towns like Kabala who would come to our village and talk to us about FGM, whereas now we are the ones taking the lead and raising awareness ourselves.”
15-year-old Marie has refused to be cut, and has become an outspoken advocate against FGM.
Top image: Plan International Ireland’s Youth Advisory Panel collecting signatures in Dublin for a petition to end child marriage.