By Dr Amita N. Vyas
March 8, 2019 is International Women’s Day (IWD), when we celebrate women and girls around the world – for their resilience, courage, and bravery. We often celebrate award winning athletes, celebrities, and political leaders who have persevered and broken through the proverbial glass ceiling.
We must celebrate them but we must not overlook some of the bravest girls in the world today, refugees. Refugee girls are perhaps the most vulnerable in the world, and we need to see them, listen to their stories, and celebrate their tenacity and fearlessness.
This year on International Women’s Day, Brave Girl Rising will premiere as the newest story in Girl Rising’s global campaign for girls’ education and empowerment. Brave Girl Rising is a 20-minute film, made in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee, Citi, HP, and Amplifier. The film was written by Warsan Shire, a young poet laureate, and Tessa Thompson, a Hollywood actress, voices the film.
Brave Girl Rising will introduce you to Nasro, a 17 year old Somali refugee who made the trip to Dadaab Kenya with her grandparents when she was just seven years old. Nasro’s courageous drive to continue her education is inspired by the magical dreams of her mother and the sisterhood of her friends.
Nasro joins a group of remarkable girls whose stories bring attention to the persistent problem of gender discrimination and inequality. Why make a film about a refugee girl? Simple. The global refugee crisis is the worst humanitarian crisis of our lifetime. There are more than 68 million people across the globe who have fled their homes and 17 million of them are girls.
The social, economic, and health risks for refugee women and girls can not be overstated. Compared to refugee men, women have elevated risks of poor health due to higher rates of child marriage; depression; lower literacy and education; higher prevalence of being widowed; lower social support, and lower physical activity. For adolescent refugee girls in particular, the health risks are even more significant as more evidence is pointing to the fact that child marriage and early pregnancy is particularly high among those in fragile communities, including refugee settlements.
Why the increasing number of child marriages? Communities in conflict are dangerous and parents often believe that early marriage provides a level of protection for girls and a more secure future. However, this perceived protection comes at a high cost. Marriage at a young age can pose multiple threats to a girl’s health, livelihood, and future.
For example, along with child marriage comes early pregnancy which can be life threatening for young girls whose bodies are still developing. Married girls are also at greater risk for cervical cancer, malaria, death during childbirth, and obstetric fistulas. These risks are intergenerational and young girls’ offspring are at increased risk for premature birth and death as neonates, infants, or children. And finally, married girls are at higher risk for intimate partner violence which affects almost one third of girls and women worldwide.
Nasro’s story in Brave Girl Rising is one we should celebrate. But we must also do more than that. We must take her inspiration and advocate for programmes and policies that support refugee girls and women, those in Dadaab and elsewhere. Policies and programmes must educate communities, raise awareness, engage local political and religious leaders, involve parents, and empower girls through education and employment.
As you celebrate women today and every day, watch Brave Girl Rising at https://girlrising.org/brave Share it with your friends and family, and take action to support women and girls in your country and around the world. I am the mother of two beautiful and brave girls, and I would do everything in my power to protect them. Instead of child marriage, we must give parents other ways to protect their daughters. Then and only then, will we transform the world, and ensure that ALL girls are educated, healthy, and safe.