In the far-west region of my country, Nepal, the ancient Hindu practice called “chhaupadi” still exists despite an official ban. This practice considers girls and women impure during menstruation and banishes them from their homes every month when they get their periods. Many girls as young as 10 are relegated to menstruation huts or sheds, not only to face the prospect of death but also the danger of violence, rape, and health problems.
Besides harmful cultural practices and traditions, for a girl born in my country (in one of the poorest regions in the world), getting to a healthy, productive life requires overcoming many hurdles including gender discrimination, blatant sexism, harassment and violence, a lack of respect, early marriage, insufficient sexual and reproductive health services, and lack of access to education and other opportunities.
Like many girls of my generation, I was born amidst Nepalese decade-long civil war that lasted until 2006. That war claimed thousands of lives, forced children to become soldiers, and subjected thousands of young girls to sexual violence.
Thanks to a scholarship funded by an American philanthropist named Shelby Davis, who believed in me and my potential as a 16-year-old girl, I was able to pursue and continue my education at United World College in Norway and then in the United States. This changed my life entirely. This investment in my education and leadership not only gave me a voice, a decision-making ability, and confidence to realize my full potential, but it also gave me a key to unlock many of my community’s most pressing problems.
Today, because I am educated, I am confident. As a young Nepalese woman, I am leading national and international efforts to uplift vulnerable women and girls in my community and elevate the issue of combating hunger and poverty in South Asia. Today, I serve on high leadership positions such as the Global Board of Generation Unlimited, alongside the United Nations Secretary General, President of Rwanda, and the CEO of World Bank, amongst others. Together, we are working on multi-billion dollar efforts and solutions to ensure that every young person, especially young girls and women, are either in school, training or employment by 2030.
Recognizing that education is one of the most powerful methods of eliminating violence and discrimination against girls, my efforts have also ranged from addressing the heads of states during the United Nations General Assembly on the importance of quality education, helping create an alliance of a network of 300+ grassroots girls’s rights organizations based in 53 countries to support their involvement in a plethora of SDG-era decision making processes to running my own social enterprise in Nepal that is providing rural young women in my community with access to education, training, finance, and technology needed to start their own businesses.
But, there is so much that needs to be done to provide girls and young women around the world with equal opportunity to unlock their potential.
Globally, more than 130 million girls are still out of school worldwide. One girl under the age of 15 gets married every 7 seconds and loses her life to violence every 10 minutes.These girls and young women possess huge untapped potential but their voices are unheard and their dreams are crushed. All these challenges and many more throughout the world call for urgent and bold approaches to building a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world.
That’s why, today, on the International Day of the Girl, I am so excited to unveil and present the Global Girls’ Bill of Rights, a declaration of rights for girls and written by girls, to the United Nations and the world. 1000+ girls from more than 34 countries around the world have codified a bill of rights that all girls are entitled to, including the right to a free, quality education which prepares them for the modern world and protection from harmful traditions like ‘chhaupadi’ in my country Nepal.
With this powerful bill, we are calling on the United Nations, governments, civil society members, and you to directly hear our ideas and concerns. I invite you to join us in renewing your commitment to investing in girls’ health, education, and safety, and put an end to harmful practices that hold girls back from reaching their full potential. It is time to listen to us and to act upon it. We can only do this together!