Too often, young people’s voices aren’t respected or included in decision-making processes that affect them. That’s why Advocates for Youth (Advocates) is proud to support the Girl Engagement Advisory Board (GEAB), a team of adolescent girls aged 15-19 from Cameroon, Bulgaria, the United States, Kenya, Pakistan, Madagascar, Jamaica, Nigeria, Egypt, and Nepal. GEAB members engage in advocacy efforts to advance adolescent girls’ rights internationally and to inform, guide and advise Advocates’ efforts to elevate and secure prioritization of adolescent girls’ rights in the global post-2015 development agenda. This week we asked them: Why did you join the advisory board? Here’s what they said:
In Egypt and unfortunately in many other countries, women are always less than men. They are expected to have kids and do housework and nothing else. Some are not even allowed to have a basic education or a decent job. They are also blamed for any violence against them. For example, girls may be blamed for being harassed or raped because they’re not wearing what the society thinks is “decent” clothing. Domestic violence is also justified and blamed on the woman for not being an “obedient wife”. Girls are pulled out of school and forced into marriage at a very young age because the society believes their only job is to be mothers and wives. I joined the girl engagement advisory board because people have to understand that women are not less than men, that women can be successful in many jobs and that women can be leaders. I joined because girls’ voices have to be heard. I joined because this injustice has to end. – Mai, 16, Egypt
I’ve lived in a society where is it difficult for me to walk on the street alone in the morning, let alone at night. The males make all the decisions and the woman is pushed to spend her life ‘cooking and cleaning’. As soon as she has mastered this task, she’s married to a complete stranger whom she is supposed to love and support and sacrifice for.
She isn’t an individual. She is considered a dependent load. She doesn’t have a voice. Her husband/brother/father speak for her. She’s caged, she’s oppressed and she’s internally dead.
I joined this board to change all of this. When will this oppression end? When will this unchecked harassment and sexism fade away? Only if girls could come together and unite to speak against such practices. It was a tiring task to raise the rights of girls singlehandedly in a state where the ‘Mullahs’ (Islamic Extremists) dominate the mindsets of the people. Even after collecting support for this opinion, I was criticized from society and started fearing for my future here. All I needed was a safe international platform where I could voice the opinions of the oppressed girls in my society to hope for some productive action. I’m lucky to be a part of this board which has provided me with such an opportunity to play my part to advocate the basic rights of girls to make them realize that they are not alone in this fight. – Hamna, age 17, Pakistan
“Oh look she is fat”, “Noo she is ugly”, “look at her thighs”, “look the way she walks. ” These are the things that a girl in my society has to listen and go through every day. Things like this made me realize how our society treats a girl. To overcome all the ups and downs that girls like me face every day, I joined Girls Engagement Advisory Board to empower girls and young women around me. – Muna, age 19, Nepal
There is a girl I know who is very intelligent, brilliant and smart. She comes from the northern part of my country specifically Kaduna state, Nigeria. She comes from a humble and not well to do home. Despite all challenges and problems she encountered, she finished her primary and secondary education with distinctions. After her secondary school education she traveled for x-mas celebrations in the village and while talking with her cousins her grandmother asked, now that you have finished your schooling “when are you going to come home and get married”. She was dumbfounded by the question and said nothing in reply. I am that girl. And this is the reason why I joined the Girl Engagement Advisory Boar – so that I can advocate for girls right and keep empowering young people wherever I might find myself to make sure they fight and stand up for their rights. I wish for that day where every girl in my village, my country and the world at large would be able to go to school and not be schooled in early marriage. – Elizabeth, age 19, Nigeria
“But you can’t ever really say ‘no’…”
–Young girls in North Carolina
“But you’re a woman, you can’t be alone.”
“But you’re a girl, you need a man, and you need to have babies.”
“Women are only good for making sandwiches.”
–The running joke at my high school
I joined GEAB because of the young girls I met in the mountains of North Carolina who thought they had absolutely no say in having sex with someone. I joined because of the disregard I was given while traveling, that I was only worth a bride price and that I NEEDED to have a husband. That I was a waste if I wasn’t a wife and a mother. I joined because we, women, can do a lot more than make sandwiches. I joined because no person with or without religious authority can make me think that I should be placed below men.
I joined because from my own few experiences I have seen that as a girl, as a young woman, as a female I am not regarded with the same weight as a male. And I joined because that has to stop right now. – Allison, 19, United States
My upbringing consisted of growing up in a commune of women (namely my mother and sister). Sadly, in my country, women have always striven to be self-sufficient and could not always depend on men to support our life endeavours.
My mother has always advocated for pursuing our dreams and ambitions and had always been supportive of anything we participated in. She laid the foundation for me in empowerment, ambition and diligence.
However, I soon realized that this was not a common thread for most women in our society. Many in my country suffer from financial challenges that preclude them from pursing their education. Many girls are also told from a very young age that in order to go to school you have to ‘find a man to mind you’ (i.e. a man who will finance your education for sex). Many persons are also hesitant to use protection. Needless to say, shortly after the relationship begins and girls are able to go to school, they drop out shortly after due to underage pregnancy.
To add salt to the wound, the same persons that encourage the girls to get into relationships with men and not to use protection, demonize them for getting pregnant and isolate them from their community. The schools also bar them from continuing their education at the same institution and the girls are forced to compete to enter the only school in the country that caters to pregnant underage mothers. The males however, are not inconvenienced in their pursuits nor are they compelled to take care of their children.
My own friends became a part of this system and had very limited amounts of recourse when they are faced with challenges. My family tried to assist in the best ways we could but there are very limited avenues for advocacy for youth.
When I became aware of the opportunity to join the Girl Engagement Advisory Board, I found that it was an extraordinary opportunity to help girls who are at risk of falling into the same system due to not knowing their rights. It has invigorated me and given me a voice, platform and avenue in which I can provide solutions for girls who are at risk along with reaching out others who have the capacity to assist them. – Christal, 19, Jamaica
I have a group friends – girls, we are 8 of them – and we share everything with each other. One of my friends had a really strange relationship with her boyfriend. He chased after her for like 4 or 5 months, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to get involved with him yet. Eventually he proved to her that he cared about her and that he wasserious. Everything was going very well in the beginning when we met him and he looked like a really nice guy, but everything went bad a few months after they got together. He started calling her names, lying to her and he was very rude to her without a reason. He didn’t let her see other guys because he was very jealous and on top of everything he started to be violent against her. She had bruises at her arms and chest and he slapped her a few times as well. When I saw this I decided that the something should be done and that might be happening not only to my friend, but also to other girls.
I know that I am one person and I cannot change what happens to a lot of people, but when I know that there are other girls like me, caring about this, it makes me feel encouraged to help people like my friend. – Preslava, age 19, Bulgaria
Not only was the Girl Engagement Advisory Board a way towards self discovery and a way to make use of my potentials but also an opportunity to share what I have been through , my struggles to be right where I am now. I joined the GEAB because I don’t want other girls to live what I lived. I want to be there for them ,and make them know that they have a friend who cares for them and be ready to make a stand by being their voice. – Patricia, age 16, Madagascar