5 young women who should be celebrated this International Day of the Girl
International Day of the Girl was set up by the UN in 2011 to recognise the challenges faced by girls growing up around the world, whether they be access to education, forced child marriage, sexual discrimination, gender based violence, lack of access to reproductive education, or anything in between. In raising attention to these issues and inspiring discussion, the UN hopes to promote female empowerment from an early age in order to prepare the girls of today to be the strong and powerful women of tomorrow.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to hear a then 16 year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan for her female educational campaigning, speak about her experiences. Inspiring and humbling, her story was remarkable; even more so is the fact that far from letting those events stop her, she is now a student at the University of Oxford. But as these young ladies show, she’s not the only shining example of an inspiring young woman making important changes to society. Without further ado, here are some young ladies bucking stereotypes, fighting oppression and who are bound to make even bigger waves in the future.
1. Maya Ghazal
When Maya Ghazal arrived in the UK from Syria, she found herself isolated, lonely, and turned away from four British schools; far from the welcoming place she had expected, it was an uncomfortable start to life in her adopted country. Keen to use her experiences to help others, Maya now campaigns with The Children’s Society to bring attention to the issues facing young refugees in Britain. She’s also an ambassador for the UNHCR, a winner of the Diana Legacy Award and is studying Engineering Aviation student at university. Speaking on her Instagram just before she started her course she had one clear message: "I am starting an Aviation Engineering with Pilot studies course soon, people are saying that it is not quite a feminist field, but, why so?”
2. Fahma Mohamed
Before she'd even started studying for her undergraduate degree, Fahma Mohamed had already earned an honorary doctorate in Law from the University of Bristol and been praised by the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, both as a result of her efforts to end gender based violence. While still a teenager, Mohamed led a campaign to end female genital mutilation (FGM), speaking out against the practice and writing directly to the UK's Education Secretary to call on him to do more to protect young girls. As a result, all frontline public service workers, such as teachers and doctors, now receive training to make the warning signs easier to spot. Fahma is one young woman that has made life a little safer for hundreds, if not thousands, of others.
3. Mo’ne Davis
Still only 16 years old, Mo’ne Davis is an American former Little League baseball player who redefined the meaning of “throwing like a girl”. In 2014, she became the first girl ever to pitch a “shutout”, meaning the other team did not score a single run against her, and the first African-American woman to play in the Little League world series. If that wasn’t cool enough, she was also the first Little League baseball player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated - much less the first 13-year-old - and has already released her first memoir. Watch out for her name in the future because right now she’s on track to dominate the college basketball world too!
4. Maya Burhanpurkar
Most people head off a far flung beach on their gap year; Maya Burhanpurkar spent hers helping to develop a self-driving wheelchair to allow people with severe disabilities retain a more independent lifestyle. Prior to this, she made a documentary about climate change in the arctic, contributed to two important medical breakthroughs and by 15 became the youngest ever leader of STEM, a non-profit Science expo that reaches out to over 120,000 young people across Canada. All in all, not bad for a girl that hadn’t even started university yet!
5. Jazz Jennings
Admittedly you may have heard of Jazz, who is known for her Youtube videos entitled “I Am Jazz” which detail her life as a transgender teenager. Jennings, who’s parents described her as identifying as female as soon as she could talk, is noted for being one of the youngest people to be publicly identified as a transgender individual. In 2007 her and her parents founded the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation to assist other young people in similar situations and in 2014 she was named in TIME magazine's list of "The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014".
Of course, these are just a few of the young women totally bossing it in their respective fields. All over the world there will be others, receiving less recognition but working just as hard to create a better future and a better world for everyone. But given that, according to the UN, women and girls account for a staggering “75 percent of the refugees and displaced persons at risk from war, famine, persecution and natural disaster”, it's safe to say that there's still a long way to go until the Day of the Girl Child is no longer needed.