All girls and women have the right to choose what they want in life. Girls must be empowered with the knowledge, skills and options they need to reach their full potential.
Unless girls have equal access to opportunities and resources from birth, through childhood and adolescence and into older age, gender equality will never be reached.
Women and girls are agents of change and UNICEF is working around the world to help lift them up on International Women’s Day and every day.
These are the stories of ten girls from around the world, who are breaking down barriers and changing perceptions in their communities.
Bodoor (17) The Astronaut
Bodoor is preparing for her final exams in a UNICEF-supported school in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. She first moved to the camp from Syria in 2014 and is one of 22,000 children living in the camp.
Despite leaving behind everything she knows, Bodoor is refusing to let her experience stop her from achieving her dreams. “It is an exceptional thing. No one here has the same dream. And I love to be exceptional. And one of a kind. In our society no one has the same dreams and if I get this dream, I would be the first woman from Syria to go to the moon. I want to see our planet from the moon and what the earth looks like.”
Asunta (16) The Business Owner
Asunta’s home in South Sudan has been marred by armed conflict for almost half her life. She lives in Wau in the north west of the country. Wau is home to thousands of internally displaced men, women, and children. Many girls, like Asunta, attend the UNICEF-supported school to learn key life skills. Some of these skills have helped Asunta with the small bakery she runs from her tent on the grounds of St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Photograph: © UNICEF/Hatcher-Moore
Anwar (14) Dina (15) The Engineers
Anwar and Dina are advocates for girls’ rights in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. “Girls have a harder time in the camp. By our nature, girls are innovative, but we are also shy,” says Anwar. “We are here as an example to other girls to show how we can use our creativity.”
With electricity not always available in the camp, the two friends developed a lamp powered by a power bank to help students complete their homework at night. “Our hope is for the workshop, is to spread our idea, until it’s in every house in Za’atari,” says Dina.
Photograph: © UNICEF/Herwig
Aya (12) The Teacher
In Gaza, Aya has a dream of helping other children like her. Born deaf, Aya wants to be a specialist is Sign Language education. Aya and her family fled their home in the city’s Shishaya area during heavy bombardment. “We lost a lot. I lost my home and we don’t want to live this terrifying life. To be scared all the time”.
Photograph: © UNICEF/d’Aki
Shirin (17) The Entrepeneur
Shirin is a member of an Adolescent Club in Mirpur, Bangladesh. After receiving a small cash transfer from UNICEF, she opened her own shop. Starting a business on her own was really challenging, but Shirin is now a mainstay of her local community.
Photograph: © UNICEF/Kiron
Maria (16) The Technician
For as long as she can remember Maria has had to work to support her family. Throughout her childhood she has lived on the edge; finding odd and often risky jobs where she could. Finally, Maria is now able to think about her long-term future. At the UNICEF’s vocational training institute in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Maria trained to be an electrical technician. And now she has a job in a renewable energy company.
Photograph: © UNICEF/Martin
Azhar (18) The Scholar
Azhar is a Syrian refugee living in Greece. She shares a 3×3 meter container with her mother and four siblings in a refugee camp. “Sometimes I feel trapped,” Azhar says, “but in my books, my study, I can feel freedom. I’ve lost so much time. There is so much I want to do, but I can’t do it here. I wake up in here every morning, and I see six people in our tiny room, and I think: ‘I need to make this situation better.’ I have to fight, and every day I fight to improve.”
Back home in Syria, Azhar had almost finished school when it was shut down due to fighting. With her mother’s blessing she travelled to Aleppo to take part in the end of year exams. But fighting followed her there.
“We studied in the daytime and listened to bombs in the night,” she said. After completing exams, she was on a bus home when the vehicle was stopped by ISIS fighters. Girls were permitted to continue on their journey, but boys were removed and kidnapped. “I never heard what happened to them” she says quietly. “I risked my life for something great,” Azhar says, “and, the first thing I packed when I left Syria was my diploma.”
Photograph: © UNICEF/ Gilbertson VII Photo
Saja (13) The Olympian
Saja lost her four best friends (Fatima, Zahr’a, Cedra and Wala’a) in a bomb attack in the Bab Al-Nairab neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo, Syria, more than two years ago. She lost her leg in the same attack and with it her dream of being a gymnast.
But Saja has never lost hope. She has never stopped dreaming. Every day she resolutely makes the long walk to the UNICEF-supported school to continue her education. “I love playing football. When I play football, I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything at all,” she says. Saja dreams of one day taking part in the Special Olympics.
Photograph: © UNICEF/ Al-Issa
Muzoon (19) The Activist
Syrian refugee and education activist, Muzoon Almellehan, is UNICEF’s youngest ever Global Goodwill Ambassador. After fleeing conflict in Syria with her family, Muzoon lived in refugee camps for three years including 18 months in the Za’atari camp in Jordan. While in Za’atari, Muzoon began working with UNICEF campaigning for the rights of children, particularly girls, to have an education.
Photograph: © UNICEF/ Sokhin