‘Girls are not toys!’ – How one child activist is standing up for equality and justice
A message from child activist, Masuma, in preparation for the Generation Equality Forum
“As a girl, I have seen how much gender inequality affects life. (…) In our families, community, we, the girls have to obey the prohibitions… the rules are only for girls. Usually, we are blamed for anything wrong happened with us. (…) A collective was established and as a female collective member, I can say that our collectives have established equal rights for all boys and girls, they discuss different issues together, and everyone listens with respect.”
Masuma, a 16 year-old child activist, living in Malda, West Bengal, India.
The Generation Equality Forum kicks off today in Mexico and will culminate in Paris at the end of June. It is over 25 years ago, that women came together to adopt the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights.
Now, a new generation stands ready to join the action. Not enough progress has been made and the pandemic has pushed the world in the wrong direction. So women and girls are more determined than ever to demand their fair share and make gender equality a reality. Access to justice is critical for women and girls to stand up for themselves and legal empowerment can enable women to stake their claim.
The Elders and Pathfinders organized a private convening on Justice for Women, in preparation of the Gender Equality Forum. Masuma, a 16-year-old activist, delivered the following statement in Bangla, her native language, to the participants.
“Good evening to all the respected delegates!
As a girl, I have seen how much gender inequality affects life. During lockdown my father lost his job and stayed at home. He didn’t help me or my mother, rather used to shout and blame her. During lockdown, some of my peers were pressured to get married. As member of the collective, me and my team talked to the parents to prevent the marriages. But in our families, community, we, the girls have to obey the prohibitions… the rules are only for girls. Usually we are blamed for anything wrong happened with us.
To raise voice against these, a collective was established and as a female collective member, I can say that our collectives have established equal rights for all boys and girls, they discuss different issues together, and everyone listens with respect. Likewise, equal rights need to be established in family and society. We need to understand that women’s rights are human rights, and everyone should be aware of it.
In this regard, I would like to highlight the importance to preventing all forms of violence against children.
I live in a slum and I can feel how children are being abused in different ways every moment. As a member of a collective, we have identified various incidents where girls are physically or emotionally abused and most of these are done by their family members and neighbours. So, we raise our voices against all forms of violence. I think, first of all, we need to stop all forms of abuses against children, otherwise equal rights and justice for all cannot be established.
To establish gender equality, the government needs to put focus towards the effective functioning of child protection committees at local administration level. Female participation needs to be ensured at local club level. Also, gender equality needs to be taught in schools so that children receive appropriate knowledge from an early age.
The government should focus on participation of girls, from low-income backgrounds, migrants, increases in all fields, esp. in Justice Sector. Like — if more females can be engaged as police, advocates, judges then it will be easier for other women to open up about their experiences.
My final message is : Girls are not toys! So, whatever is decided for them, shouldn’t be based on their age, but based on their choice.”
After the workshop, Masuma spoke about how she was very happy that an international high-level event made space to hear from an adolescent girl like her. Since participating in this event, Masuma says that she feels more confident to continue her work in defending the rights of girls in her community. She is coordinating with her collective to conduct joint action for International Women’s Day to raise awareness about gender inequality and ways to challenge it.
Masuma is a 16 year-old child activist, living in Malda, West Bengal, India. For two years, she has been involved in a Sports for Protection project implemented by Terre des hommes Foundation and Praajak, and funded by Comic Relief.
Terre des hommes is part of Pathfinders Justice for Children, Justice for All initiative, which is led by CELCIS Inspiring Children’s Futures at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, with the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Violence Against Children & the Child Justice Advocacy Group, coordinated by Terre des hommes and Defence for Children International.