These gender equality warriors are breaking down barriers

Mar 07, 2019
7-Minute Read
This week, my little sister sent a photo of a poem she was reading to our family group chat. The first line of the poem, which features in the sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur, reads, “as a father of three daughters…” The poet goes on to explain that despite her culture’s tendency push marriage on daughters, Kaur’s father pushed education, “knowing it would set us free”.
 
My father, an educator of over 30 years, also has three daughters. The poem struck a chord with us, because he too has made sure that each of us knows how to “walk independently”.
 
In my work with World Vision, I have often thought of my father when I’ve met other dads fighting for their daughters’ right to education, or little girls full of the kind of determination and fire he and my mom nurtured in my sisters and me. 
 
Like my dad, the community leaders below are gender equality warriors, breaking down the barriers that hold women and girls, men and boys back from experiencing life in all its fullness.

May we all have their courage to push past peoples’ assumptions about us and fight for justice, regardless of our gender.

A young woman leans her head on her father's shoulder in Ethiopia.
Tigist, 14, and Molla, Ethiopia. Photo: Paul Bettings
 
Of this list, Molla reminds me most of my father. His easy smile crinkles the corners of his eyes just the way my dad’s does. His story also touched me deeply on a recent visit to Ethiopia.
Molla and his wife Wudde had already promised Tigist in marriage when Molla joined the male engagement group. He learned about the dangers of early marriage, and decided to cancel Tigist’s upcoming nuptials. Now, Molla speaks with other fathers in his community about the importance of allowing girls to finish their education. “It’s not just my daughter that I have dreams for. It’s all your daughters,” he tells them.  

A young man cuts fruit in his kitchen in Armenia.Hayk, 14, Armenia. Photo: Eugene Lee
 
Preference for boys is deeply rooted in the Armenian society 14 year-old Hayk is growing up in. But Hayk, a sponsored child, looks at things differently thanks to a program his parents took called “Caring for Equality”. The program helped the pair craft more equitable roles in their marriage and improved their relationship. As a result, Hayk says that “It’s normal for me to help my mother with the chores.” He takes an active role in the household, where many of his male peers would sit back as a preferred child and let their sisters and mother do the work. Teens like Hayk are courageously changing their communities by creating a balance for equality.

A mother and father sit with their children in Afghanistan.
Gulum and Zia, Afghanistan. Photo: Mary Kate MacIsaac
 
In Afghanistan, desperate circumstances often result in daughters being sold to help families’ financial situations. But Gulum and his wife Zia* refuse to marry off any of the eight daughters, aged 18 months to 17 years, who live with them at home. Zia also bucks tradition by working outside the home to provide for her family, since her husband was injured as a soldier and can no longer support them. Zia is adamant that her children will have a better life. “Because I can’t read and write, it’s so important to me that my daughters continue their schooling. I insist, my daughters will go to school.” *Name has been changed

A young girl bends over her copy book in class in South Sudan.Mercy, 16, South Sudan. Photo: Mark Nonkes
 
Mercy is one of only a few girls in her grade 7 class. “It’s more difficult for girls to study because we have more responsibility at home, and can be forced to marry early or become pregnant.” But, with World Vision’s help, Mercy hopes to become the first girl in her family to complete her education. She is one of more than 24,000 girls that World Vision is helping attend school. Maybe someday she will earn her university degree, just like World Vision South Sudan staff member Sunday!

A young girl stands with her peers in Bangladesh, holding a piggy bank.
Sumi,18, Bangladesh. Photo: Paul Bettings
 
Sumi is the secretary of the "Adolescent Power Savings Group" in her community. The group’s 20 members, all female aged 12-18, are gender equality warriors in their community. They speak to community leaders about sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls, and put on skits at the schools about the dangers of early marriage. Sumi is featured here with her piggy bank; all group members have one. Sumi dreams of being a nurse, and is saving for her school entrance exams. When asked what their parents think of their daughters asserting themselves, she replied, “Our mothers are proud of us, and supportive of what we are doing. Our fathers and brothers are supportive too!”
 
These warriors are part of a world-changing movement that knows no boundaries. Who are your gender equality warriors? How are you pushing for change in your own community? We’d love to hear from you! Head over to our Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and join the discussion.