All across the world, girls are standing up as never before. They are demanding to be free. Free to pursue their hopes and dreams, and free to live the life they choose to build for themselves. With empowerment and the right support, girls can change the world. Many of them are already doing just that.
As we celebrate Day of the Girl today, we must remember the millions of girls in Asia and the world who still face discrimination and oppression. If the world is to meet its commitment to “leave no one behind”, we have to fight the exclusion and discrimination that stop girls fulfilling their potential. Here are some of the stories of excluded girls in Asia. They have fallen through the cracks, they have successfully challenged the status quo and they are now a huge step closer to have their dreams fulfilled and their rights being guaranteed.
Tania, the Torch Bearer in Bangladesh
Tania belongs to the “Horizon” community in Bangladesh. Her future could have been predetermined according to history of her caste people becoming toilet cleaners. The minority group of “Horizon” are one of the most excluded across the country and was only until recently given the right to vote. They are commonly found in a defined area of cities with poor housing and sanitary conditions. They even cannot sit on the same bench as others and are served separate sets of cutleries at food stalls. Sexual abuse, physical punishment, and child marriage are still prevalent amongst the community and women, especially girls, are disregarded and ill-treated.
Despite the challenges, Tania chose to become a torch bearer and fought a tough battle for girl’s rights in her community and is now the only other girl who is attending college. The journey for Tania was certainly not an easy one. After initially passing Grade 5 in primary school, the school refused to enroll her or anyone of “Horizon” ethnicity fearing social “backlash” by granting the “cleaners” access to school. This caused her to miss school for a whole year.
“It was not east for me or a girl of this community to have a dream. I was not even allowed to sit for the admission test. It was unthinkable for a Horizon Palli girl to be in school” said Tania.
After returning to school, Tania constantly faced ridicule from her schoolmates, which resulted in her quitting school again. Her perseverance pulled through and she attained the highest score amongst the other girls for her Junior Secondary examinations. In order to continue studying, however, this will cost her and her family more money.
“If girls go out, they get spoilt, have love affairs and become shameless.” Said her father and eldest brother who then attempted to marry her off at the age of 15. Her mother was against the idea and strongly protested against it, convincing them to allow her to commit to her educational endeavours. Tania is now a member of the Child Right’s Forum, a child group supported by Save the Children, and organizes community engagement events and campaigns for the inclusion of her community and rights of all children.
Chandrawati, the girl who dreams to go back to school
Chandrawati, was married off to a boy living in Lalpur, located 10km away from where her village is. She is only 13 years old this year. Despite living close to him, she has only met her husband once in her life, which was on the day of her marriage. She is part of the Dalit community in Nepal, one of the poorest castes in Nepal.
Within the Dalit community, there are two ceremonies that need to occur before the husband and wife lives together under the same roof. The second ceremony is called a “Gauna”. Both ceremonies require to be paid by the girl and her family.
Girls from the poorest communities are often married off around the age of 13 to 15 due to financial challenges. Due to the caste restrictions, it is unlikely that a girl will be able to find a suitor arranged by her family the older she gets and dowries that are to be paid to her suitor’s family, plus wedding expenses, will increase significantly together with age.
“My family has no land. No land means we don’t have money. If my brothers don’t work for just one day, we will have to borrow money from the richer community members. Without school, I look after the house and cook and clean for everybody.”, shared Chandrawati.
Without being able to pay for school fees, uniforms or study materials, girls are then left with no choice but to be married off at a much younger age, despite the law making any marriage below the age of 18, illegal in the Nepal.
Chandrawati wishes that she will be able to go to school but if she did, she claims that no one will be able to look after her family, especially her mother. She found the subjects taught in school to be useful and practical for her future. If given the chance, she would love to go back to school after leaving for 2 years. She was against being married because she knew the disadvantages that came with marrying as a child and that she has not spent enough time in school.
Ni, being given a chance to go to secondary school
Ni is a Prai, one of the 160 ethnic groups of Laos, which constitutes 45% of the population of the country. Every day, Ni has to get up earlier than her family members in order to engage in household chores such as fetching water, cleaning the house, doing the dishes, and preparing breakfast for her family members.
The main source of income for the family is from working in the field; and, during every school break, she has to go to the field every day to work and support her family. It is, therefore, hard for her parents to send children to school.
For Ni to be able to continue her education after primary school, her parents had to endure certain financial burdens that they could not afford. Her 3 siblings, for instance, were unable to attend a lower secondary school and thus only finished primary education. “My brother and sisters stopped going to school because my parents did not have money to support them,” stated Ni.
Because Ni’s family is considered the most disadvantaged based on the social and economic criteria scoring for scholarship provision, Save the Children has provided Ni with a scholarship to ensure that her family can meet the basic needs required for her education. “I am very proud to receive a scholarship from Save the Children,” said Ni. She continued, “If not, I would only finish Grade 5 the way two of my siblings did.”
Every Last Girl in the World
Today, we are releasing a new report called “Every Last Girl: Free to live, free to learn, free from harm” which ranks countries in an index from the best to worst country in which to be a girl, based on child marriage, schooling, teen pregnancy, maternal deaths and number of female parliamentarians.
The international community has pledged to end child marriage by 2030, but if current trends continue, the total number of women married in childhood will grow from more than 700 million today to around 950 million by 2030.
Ishwor, our Senior Project Coordinator in Kapilvastu, Nepal, said, “Child marriage is the biggest issue of Kapilvastu. It is also a cultural issue. There is no immediate solution. We have to work with the communities and teach them about the benefits of keeping their children in school.”
He added, “It is a common excuse that families will say that they are poor and cannot afford to send their daughter to school. In reality, they are just not interested to send her to school because they do not understand the benefits of having good education and the opportunities that come with it. Those who really are poor will get the uniforms and study materials sponsored by the Village Child Protection Committees which are operated by government officials.”
While we run a range of programmes that support the most disadvantaged girls around the world. We are calling on governments and donors to invest in girls’ education and life chance, to help bring an end to child marriage and gender discrimination.
“Child marriage starts a cycle of disadvantage that denies girls the most basic rights to learn, develop and be children,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International.
“Girls who marry too early often can’t attend school, and are more likely to face domestic violence, abuse and rape. They fall pregnant and are exposed to STIs including HIV. They also bear children before their bodies are fully prepared, which can have devastating consequences on their and their baby’s health.”