With over 1.1 billion girls in the world today, there’s no better time for girls to rise up and shape a more sustainable world that’s better for everyone than right now.
The world has seen that girls are brimming with talent and creativity but even in 2016, their dreams and potential are often thwarted by discrimination, violence and lack of equal opportunities.
The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child is “Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement” and is a call for action for increased investment in collecting and analyzing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data.
To mark this day, we at BellaNaija have profiled some girls (all under the age of 20) who have made great strides in various fields and whose stories fill us with hope for the future.
Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, is also a very inspiring girl. She is known mainly for human rights advocacy for education and for women in her native Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. Yousafzai’s advocacy has since grown into an international movement.
In early 2009, when she was 11–12, Yousafzai wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC Urdu detailing her life under Taliban occupation, their attempts to take control of the valley, and her views on promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley. Yousafzai rose in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television, and she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by South African activist Desmond Tutu.
This popularity did not come without a prize as an assassination attempt was made on her life in October 2012, when a gunman asked for her by name, then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots. One bullet hit the left side of Yousafzai’s forehead, travelled under her skin through the length of her face, and went into her shoulder. In the days immediately following the attack, she remained unconscious and in critical condition, but later her condition improved enough for her to be sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, for intensive rehabilitation.
Over the Years, Time magazine has featured Yousafzai as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World”. She was the winner of Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize, and the recipient of the 2013 Sakharov Prize. In July that year, she spoke at the headquarters of the United Nations to call for worldwide access to education, and in October the Government of Canada announced its intention that its parliament confer Honorary Canadian citizenship upon Yousafzai. In February 2014, she was nominated for the World Children’s Prize in Sweden. In May 2014, Yousafzai was granted an honorary doctorate by the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Later in 2014, Yousafzai was announced as the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Kailash Satyarthi, for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. She was only 17 at the time, which made her become the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. She was also the subject of Oscar-shortlisted 2015 documentary ‘He Named Me Malala’.
Leading by example, Malala has been a pupil at the all-girls’ Edgbaston High School in Birmingham since 2015.
The girls learning science in defiance of Boko Haram
Stella Uzochukwu – Denis, a former electronics engineer,did something profound when she gathered young girls and taught them how to code in defiance of Boko Haram, whose stance against western-style education robbed children of education in the North.
Through the Odyssey Educational Foundation,they were able to offer the girls a rich learning experience in robotics, computer programming and the four STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths. The foundation also aims to encourage more children, especially girls, to think about pursuing science and technology careers.
School girls in the Odyssey Educational Foundation’s after school STEM program are encouraged to pursue careers in science and technology, and have even built a robot to tackle waste problem.
The girl’s efforts were part of the First Lego League competition which has seen 233,000 children across 80 countries enroll. For this year’s competition, students had to build and program robots that could pick up and drop off pieces of garbage on a play area. Unused plastic bags have also been turned into play marbles by the girls.
Zuriel is a 14 year old American girl of Nigerian and Mauritian descent and a female education advocate and film maker. Her advocacy has since made her the youngest person to be profiled by Forbes and at age 12, Zuriel became the world’s youngest filmmaker to have a self-produced and self-edited work after her film showed in two movie chains before moving on to screen in Ghana, England, South Africa, and Japan.
Oduwole has met with 22 Presidents and Prime Ministers in line with her education advocacy work. Some of these include the leaders of Jamaica, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Liberia, South Sudan, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Guyana and Namibia. She has also appeared in popular television stations including CNBC, Bloomberg TV, EbonyLife TV, BBC and CNN and in 2013, Oduwole was listed in the New African Magazine’s list of “100 Most Influential People in Africa” alongside Oby Ezekwesili, Jumoke Adenowo, Mo Abudu and more.
In 2013, after the release of her documentary film titled ‘The 1963 OAU Formation’, Zuriel was profiled in Forbes Magazine. and she interviewed the President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, the President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete and the President of Mauritius Rakeshwar Purryag. In March 2013, Oduwole then started a project called ‘Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up’, a campaign which was first launched at the Lagos Business School’s Pan-Atlantic University, for the advocacy and promotion of girl-child education in Africa.
In April 2014, Oduwole was listed as the most Powerful 11 year old in the world by New York Business Insider’s in their listing of “World’s Most Powerful Person at Every Age”. In February 2015, Elle Magazine listed her in their annual feature of “33 Women Who Changed The World”, alongside Janet Yellen and President of General Motors, Mary Barra.
First of her name, she did her country proud at the 2016 Olympics Games in Brazil showing us that nothing beats preparation and hardwork.
The 19-year-old American gymnast, Simone Biles became the first woman to win three consecutive world all-around titles leading the United States to victory in the team event.
She left Rio with five gold medals and is also the most decorated American female gymnast in World Championships history, with a total of fourteen medals, ten of them gold.
Her birth story is very inspiring one as her birth mother, Shanon Biles gave her and her siblings up for adoption when she was 6 years old due to her (Shanon) drug and alcohol addiction.
In an interview with Omnisport, Simone said:
I’ve finally done it. It’s so exciting. You never know the feeling until it hits you. “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.
Zulaikha Patel, a 13 year old girl, led the protests alongside other black girls saying that they were being forced by teachers to arrange their hair differently, alleging that they are being made to follow strict style rules that are racist and discriminatory.
In an interview with CNN, Patel said, “The issue of my hair has been a thing that’s followed me my entire life, even in Primary I was told my hair is not natural, it’s exotic, my Afro was not wanted or anything like that and then the issue followed me to High School”
This young girl’s choice to speak out sparked others to speak out in other schools in the country as students of Lawson Brown High School in the Eastern Cape marched against racism and cultural discrimination.
At the age of 10, British-Nigerian girl Esther Okade made headlines all over the world, when she enrolled in an Open University to study Maths after passing her A-levels.
In an interview with CNN, she said
“It’s so interesting. It has the type of maths I love. It’s real maths — theories, complex numbers, all that type of stuff. It was super easy. My mum taught me in a nice way. I want to (finish the course) in two years. Then I’m going to do my PhD in financial maths when I’m 13. I want to have my own bank by the time I’m 15 because I like numbers and I like people and banking is a great way to help people.”
Esther has always been ahead of her peers as she sat for her first Math GSCE exam, a British high school qualification, at Ounsdale High School in Wolverhampton at just six, where she received a C-grade. A year later, she outdid herself and got the A-grade she wanted. Since she enrolled at the open University in January, Esther has been topping her class, going as far as 100% in an exam.
Omonefe (her mother) noticed her daughter’s flair for figures shortly after she began homeschooling her at the age of three. Initially, Esther’s parents had enrolled her in a private school but after a few short weeks, the pair began noticing changes in the usually-vibrant youngster.
“One day we were coming back home and she burst out in tears and she said ‘I don’t ever want to go back to that school — they don’t even let me talk!’
“In the UK, you don’t have to start school until you are five. Education is not compulsory until that age so I thought OK, we’ll be doing little things at home until then. Maybe by the time she’s five she will change her mind.”
Trying to teach Esther basic number skills showed that she was miles ahead and by four, her natural aptitude for maths had seen the eager student move on to algebra and quadratic equations.
Esther is not content with the barriers she has broken as she is also writing a series of math workbooks for children called “Yummy Yummy Algebra.”
South Africa’s worst drought in recorded history left eight of the country’s nine provinces in a state of disaster, with thousands of communities and millions of households in dire water shortage.
Then 16 year old, Kiara Nirghin stepped in with a brilliant invention to help farmers through the crisis at a cut-price rate and an unlikely source!
Johannesburg schoolgirl Kiara won the $50,000 Google Science Fair’s Community Impact Scholarship Award for the Middle East and Africa with her submission “No More Thirsty Crops” which was made from orange peels and avocado skins. She created a super absorbent polymer (SAP) capable of storing reserves of water hundreds of times its own weight, forming reservoirs that would allow farmers to maintain their crops at minimal cost. The polymer has the added benefit of sustainability as it uses recycled and biodegradable waste products.
The teenager combined the skin and peel and left the mixture in the sun, where they reacted together to form the powerfully absorbent polymer.
Here’s a video showing Kiara giving advice to upcoming trail blazers:
The teenager, whose hero is the Indian agricultural scientist M. S. Swaminathan, has many more ideas, including a proposal to dye the skins of endangered animals to discourage poaching.
“I might look into health sciences or engineering,” she says of her future plans. “Something so I can improve the world.”