By Marcia Banasko, Communications Officer, World YWCA.
Throughout history we have witnessed social and political transformations achieved through the collective actions of others and often led by the vision of an individual. As stated by Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
The version of history we are taught in school would have us believe that all important change makers were men and that women had very little to do with the advancement of civilisation. However, we know this is completely false.
Women have changed the course of history in all realms of humanity. All across technology, economics, health, the arts, social and civil change, sports, education, science and religion, you will find female pioneers leading the way. Women have affirmed an enduring place in history as a result of the diligent commitment of our fore mothers such as Emmeline Pankhurst – Suffragette leader, Angela Davis – political civil rights activist, Emilia Earhart – first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic, Maria Montessori – physician and educator, Alice Walker- author, Babe Didrikson Zaharias – athlete and Mother Teresa – religious humanitarian leader. Historical female political change makers include but are not limited to Cleopatra, Empress Toshi-ko of Japan, Catherine the Great, Mary Queen of Scots, Joan of Arc, Queen Nanny of Jamaica, Queen Nzingha of Angola in addition to contemporary leaders such as Presidents Isabel Peron, Joyce Banda, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf or Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, Mary Robinson, Indira Gandhi, Pratibha Patil, Benazir Bhutto. The list is endless.
Today, women and girls continue to make history around the world. Take Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani education activist who, in 2012, was shot by the Taliban on her school bus for speaking out about the importance of girls’ equal access to education. Malala survived the attack and, as a result, sparked an international campaign to ensure girls’ equal access to affordable and quality education. Through her small act of writing a blog for the BBC, Malala shared with the world the realities faced by thousands of girls in rural Pakistan. Today, Malala is hailed as a champion of girls’ rights to education and was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, Malala is not the only girl making her mark in the history books.
In the global effort to end child marriage, various civil society groups, governments, NGOs, women, girls, men and boys are writing a new history with women and girls at the centre. A group of Bangladeshi teenagers known as Wedding Busters are taking positive action to change the minds of parents in their community with the aim of making their region a child marriage free zone. In Bangladesh, 66% of girls are married before they reach the age of 18, often depriving them of a chance for an education and condemning them to ill health and economic hardship.
Wedding Busters is comprised of both girls and boys; girls who were at risk of child marriage act as advocates for other girls. In a video produced by Plan International, Sonhita, a 13-year-old girl who was married three years prior and now has a six month old baby, aspires to provide a better future for her daughter. Sonhita shares that she will ensure her daughter stays in school so as not to deny her of her dreams. Girls like Sonhita are the real game changers and history makers.