Girls’ Leadership Matters!

By Alda, an 18 year old Plan International girl activist from Indonesia

 To mark the 2017 International Day of the Girl today, the author was tapped to serve as Secretary-General of the OECD on 11 October 2017
during a special girlstake over event organised by Plan International.

day-of-the-girlWhen someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. However, I know that the reality is still so much different from what I have in mind.

When I was 12 years old, my friend in school was pregnant. As soon as everyone in her family and school knew, she dropped out of school and I have never heard about her again. Three years later, I attended the wedding of another friend, who was pregnant at the age of 16. I was really confused at her wedding and feeling sad for her because she looked unhappy and very quiet. I imagine that it was a hard time for my friend to accept. After the wedding, she dropped out of school and moved in with her husband’s family.


Alda and OECD Secretary-General, Angel Gurría, discuss girls’ rights, leadership and empowerment during the 2017 International Day of the Girl. Photos: OECD/Hervé Cortinat

Faced with the reality of many girls — even my own friends in my community — getting pregnant and getting married, I have strong concerns about teenage pregnancy and child marriage affecting girls. I realise that teenage pregnancy and child marriage take away our rights to enjoy education and the freedom to reach our potential. My community thinks that the only solution for a girl who becomes pregnant is marriage, which I believe is not a solution. After marriage, I know the lives of girls do not get better. Instead, they live in poverty because they do not have education and skills that are necessary to apply for decent jobs. I think it is now a big challenge for the future of Indonesia since recent data show that 360 000 Indonesian girls marry each year.

Since getting involved with the child and youth organisation, the Youth Coalition for Girls (YCG), a youth movement for girls’ rights initiated by Plan International Indonesia, I am more and more aware that some of the significant reasons behind child marriage and teenage pregnancy issues are lack of girls’ education and poverty. Recent data from the Indonesia Statistic Agency in 2016 show that more females cannot read or write. In my own province of Nusa Tenggara Timur, more than 800 000 girls do not know how to read and write, and most of them are from poor families. Girls living in poor families are more likely to be forced to get married to reduce the economic burdens for their families. When they are married, they live with the husband under his rules. This becomes our society’s justification for not investing in girls’ education.

Alda and OECD Secretary-General, Angel Gurría, discuss girls’ rights, leadership and empowerment during the 2017 International Day of the Girl. Photos: OECD/Hervé Cortinat

Thus, I can say that living as girls in my community is not easy. Aside from the issues of teenage pregnancy and child marriage, we also face discrimination everyday. Girls are expected to be able to cook and clean the house more than boys. It is related to the culture in my community that a girl’s destiny is to serve her husband and the family. In a cultural event like a wedding reception, for example, it is usual for the boys to join the celebration while the girls stay in the kitchen to prepare food. When I was at a big family reunion, someone said to me that no matter how smart I am, I should have good cooking and cleaning skills and even scared me that my future husband might beat me if I do not. It is usual seeing women and girls being abused in a family.

As a girl activist for girls’ rights, I know that these challenges are faced not only by Indonesian girls, but by girls around the globe. I believe that only if we work together, including with the young, will we be able to help girls live better and equal. Together with YCG, we have done campaigns on girls’ rights including: producing a photobook of girls’ lives in rural areas in Indonesia, conducting a public photo exhibition and a discussion about girls’ lives and our potential, engaging people from various backgrounds like from government and among celebrities, inviting young people to write blogs and produce video blogs supporting girls in achieving their potential, being peer supporters for vulnerable girls who need assistance at schools, and working with Plan International Indonesia to bring girls into the offices of ministers and high-level government officials to ‘’take over’’ their positions on the International Day of the Girl as one way to promote girls’ leadership.

Alda and OECD Secretary-General, Angel Gurría, discuss girls’ rights, leadership and empowerment during the 2017 International Day of the Girl. Photos: OECD/Hervé Cortinat

In addition to my activities with YCG, I am a part of a youth group promoting education for children. I teach children in poor villages. I know that education, particularly for girls, is a key to equality. Access to education and its opportunities is a fundamental right for everyone, including girls. With education, girls like me are able to maximise our potential and achieve our dream, including our dreams of decent jobs when we grow up.
What I also dream about is a world where girls can realise their futures. We should work hand-in-hand, including with young people like me, to give girls equal opportunity to learn and lead, the right to decide for our lives, and the opportunity to thrive in safe environments. I want to see all parents, including my own, treat their daughters the same as their sons. I want to see world governments, particularly in my own country of Indonesia, value and count girls’ voices and existence and take action to prevent and respond to child marriage, including with relevant programs for girls’ and women’s empowement. Last but not least, I dream about an end to the negative stigma towards girls. Instead, let us agree that girls are human beings who have the same potential as others. Let’s invest and support the fulfilment of girls’ rights and leadership.

This is why I am excited to discuss and make recommendations during my ‘’take over’’ of the OECD from Secretary-General Angel Gurría for the International Day of the Girl.

For more on the OECD’s support for the International Day of the Girl, read here.

For more on the OECD’s work on gender equality, read here.

Read more on this topic on this blog: Girls robbed of their childhood in the Sahel