To celebrate a day dedicated to the education and empowerment of girls, Victoria Fell meets 8 amazing young women around the world succeeding against the odds.
Did you know that 15 million girls will never have the opportunity to learn to read and write in primary school or that a staggering 90% of countries still have at least one law that restricts economic equality for women?
“Girls’ education and empowerment is an issue close to our heart and something we have long championed at Marie Claire,” says editor-in-chief Trish Halpin, who is chairing a panel with Plan International UK and Unilever today. Themes discussed will include everything from career choices and body image to how gendered inequalities create economic and social barriers to young women worldwide.
“Today is about taking time to think about what more needs be done but also celebrating the girls out there succeeding against the odds.” Here, we look at the amazing work being done by the Plan with girls around the world to help them reach their potential and how you can support them too.
Yulianie is part of the Chelsea Champions of Change football programme, run in partnership with Plan International UK. Through playing football together, young people learn equality, respect and tolerance. Yulianie says: ‘Many times in our communities our rights are violated. By being part of Champions of Change we realise our rights and our true value.’
After fleeing their homes in Rakhine State, thousands of Rohingya – the majority of them women and children – have arrived in Cox’s Bazar. Many are camping with little or no shelter on muddy hillsides, with no access to clean water or toilets and at serious risk of disease. Rua Banu is one of the children there: ‘I used to climb trees for fun, jump into the village pond for a swim and wander with friends back home. Here, on top of this hill, there is nothing except for black plastic tents.’ Plan International is part of the humanitarian response, focusing on the desperate need for sanitation and hygiene facilities.
Phin and her family live in a remote village in the Laos mountains. Until recently, their only income came from the rice field owned by the family which was not sufficient to cover the school costs for Phin and her brother. But after joining her local weaving group supported by Plan International, she is using her creative talent to make a new life for herself and wants to start her own business.
Mary, 11, is a Plan International sponsored child from Ghana. She attends a new school built in her community by Plan International. The school has toilets, water tanks and teachers quarters. A school garden has also been created which allows pupil to learn horticultural skills and raise money to buy books and computers from the crops they grow.
Margret experienced FGM at just six years old, and has suffered pain and complications ever since. After becoming a child bride and eventually escaping her violent marriage, she set up her own shop. With Plan International’s training, she now has the confidence and capacity to market her products, and is hoping to make enough money to go back to school.
Plan International UK is campaigning for girls’ rights across the world, including here in the UK. The charity is encouraging girls to speak out about issues like taboos around menstruation, tackling gender stereotypes in school and harassment both in the street and online. Kelsey, 14, says: ‘I think girls are treated a lot differently to boys on social media. Like if I posted one of my boxing fight photos up, I’d get people inboxing me saying, “It’s a men’s sport, you shouldn’t be doing it.”‘
Jennifer’s family could only afford to feed her leftovers. She developed anaemia and needed an urgent blood transfusion. She was helped by staff from the Young Health Programme, run by Plan International UK in partnership with AstraZeneca, and her family have been educated on how to have a nutritious diet at low cost.
Binita passed her high school exams and studied until she was 17 years old, but due to her family’s low economic conditions, she was unable to continue her education. With the support of Plan International, Binita joined a masonry training course. As a certified mason, she can now seek employment allowing her to earn higher wages. Binita says: ‘This training was new to me, but I feel lucky that even though I am a female, I can do masonry work and support the construction of my neighbours’ homes.’