Activists speak out on International Day of the Girl: 'Don’t let anyone destroy your future'

From across the globe, six fearless female activists taking a stand against gender inequality and working for a safer, fairer future talk to Marie Claire

From across the globe, six fearless female activists taking a stand against gender inequality and working for a safer, fairer future talk to Marie Claire

From street harassment and online abuse to child marriage and trafficking, young women around the world are facing daily injustices preventing them from realising their potential. The global pandemic is compounding these problems, making it more likely many will be missing out on school and placing them at greater risk of exploitation. But now young female activists are fighting back.

These inspirational girls, whether they’re living in a refugee camp in Malawi, or here in the UK, are brave young activists taking a stand on the issues affecting their lives.

Sunday October 11 is International Day of the Girl and the theme this year is My Voice, Our Equal Future. To mark the day, global children’s charity Plan International UK is celebrating the voices of powerful young activists around the world. The charity is also supporting them to help combat the issues affecting their lives.

Female activists fighting for all our rights

'I'm stopping the traffickers' Gift, 25, Nigeria

Every day, girls in crisis-hit areas of Nigeria are trafficked and exploited, often by people they know. Gift is a member of Plan International’s anti-trafficking campaign and traces her activism back to her school days in the UK.


Gift is teaching other women and girls about the dangers of traffickers

'I met a friend in the UK who had been trafficked, luckily she managed to escape,' says Gift. 'She was trafficked by a close family member. Now, I'm joining forces with Plan International to teach young girls about the cunning ways traffickers use. I'm putting my passion to good use.'

Over 25,000 supporters are backing the campaign, leading to a partnership between the youth advocates and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons.

'Child marriages must end' Subhashini, 19, India

Every year, 12 million girls around the world are married before the age of 18, and the coronavirus crisis is disrupting efforts to end the practice. Subhashini is working to prevent child marriages in her community by setting up a local network to influence village elders, parents and authorities.


Subhashini is campaigning to end child marriages

'I’ve seen so many child marriages,’ says Subhashini. 'Now it's time to do something about it. It’s the biggest problem facing my region. Eventually, I want to be a high-ranking police officer so I can combat child marriages.'

'Violence is everywhere' Rose, 19, Malawi

Rose is a young activist in Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Like many girls in the camp, she's concerned the pandemic is leading to a rise in sexual exploitation and abuse.

'Since no one is working and we're just staying home, we're at risk to a lot of violence. Don’t let anyone destroy your future, report any form of violence to the authorities.'


Rose is a young activist in her refugee camp

Ensuring the safety of girls and other vulnerable groups, is Plan International's top priority. Working with girls such as Rose, is helping to raise awareness about reporting abuse.

'Online harassment can lead to death' Cathy, 20, Uganda

As the pandemic forces our lives to move increasingly online, girls are more at risk than ever of online harassment. Cathy is campaigning for them to receive more protection.

'I once received what I thought was a friendly email from a guy asking how I was', says Cathy. 'But the following day, he'd sent me nude pictures of himself. I was shocked. It was so heartbreaking.

Cathy has experienced online harassment since joining social media

'People may not see the effects of online harassment, but it can lead to depression, even death. Young women and girls must be given more protection online.'

'Climate crisis is destroying my home' Sohagi, 19, Bangladesh

Girls and women are often hit hardest by the climate crisis, but their voices are also the least heard. Sohagi lives in a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where she is part of a youth group supported by Plan International. Together they're calling on the authorities to improve living conditions, and working to ensure girls are part of the solution.


Sohagi is witnessing first hand the devastating effects of climate change

'The monsoon season comes every year, but it’s falling earlier, it lasts longer and it is more unpredictable. Our community is getting waterlogged, sometimes for weeks,' says Sohagi. 'We, the next generation, are part of the solution. The future depends on us.'

'I'm sexually harassed in the street' Jessie, 19, UK

During lockdown, 1 in 5 girls in the UK aged 14-21 were experiencing public sexual harassment. Jess is calling for an end to street harassment. Like other activists, Jess has given a powerful Tedx talk and is working to champion Plan International’s #ISayItsNotOK campaign.

Jessie lives in fear of street harassment and is joining forces with Plan International

'I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been sexually harassed in public, even when I'm wearing my school uniform. Many times I'll walk home a different way, gripped by fear. Every time, I'll have a sick feeling in my stomach, wanting to run or hide or get away. It makes me feel ashamed of my body and ashamed to be a girl.'

* Now more than ever, we need to stand with girls fighting for their rights. Find out what you can do to support girls around the world

Maria Coole

Maria Coole is a contributing editor on Marie Claire.

Hello Marie Claire readers – you have reached your daily destination. I really hope you’re enjoying our reads and I'm very interested to know what you shared, liked and didn’t like (gah, it happens) by emailing me at:

But if you fancy finding out who you’re venting to then let me tell you I’m the one on the team that remembers the Spice Girls the first time round. I confidently predicted they’d be a one-hit wonder in the pages of Bliss magazine where I was deputy editor through the second half of the 90s. Having soundly killed any career ambitions in music journalism I’ve managed to keep myself in glow-boosting moisturisers and theatre tickets with a centuries-spanning career in journalism.

Yes, predating t’internet, when 'I’ll fax you' was grunted down a phone with a cord attached to it; when Glastonbury was still accessible by casually going under or over a flimsy fence; when gatecrashing a Foo Fighters aftershow party was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy and tapping Dave Grohl on the shoulder was... oh sorry I like to ramble.

Originally born and bred in that there Welsh seaside town kindly given a new lease of life by Gavin & Stacey, I started out as a junior writer for the Girl Guides and eventually earned enough Brownie points to move on and have a blast as deputy editor of Bliss, New Woman and editor of People newspaper magazine. I was on the launch team of Look in 2007 - where I stuck around as deputy editor and acting editor for almost ten years - shaping a magazine and website at the forefront of body positivity, mental wellbeing and empowering features. More recently, I’ve been Closer executive editor, assistant editor at the Financial Times’s How To Spend It (yes thanks, no probs with that life skill) and now I’m making my inner fangirl’s dream come true by working on this agenda-setting brand, the one that inspired me to become a journalist when Marie Claire launched back in 1988.

I’m a theatre addict, lover of Marvel franchises, most hard cheeses, all types of trees, half-price Itsu, cats, Dr Who, cherry tomatoes, Curly-Wurly, cats, blueberries, cats, boiled eggs, cats, maxi dresses, cats, Adidas shelltops, cats and their kittens. I’ve never knowingly operated any household white goods and once served Ripples as a main course. And finally, always remember what the late great Nora Ephron said, ‘Everything is copy.’