Being dangerously close to turning 30 (alright, alright I know I have three more years to go), I sometimes look back on my life as a teenager and I come to the conclusion that I’m quite happy about outgrowing that age. Not because it wasn’t great being 15 years old – no, it really was, but because it felt like every minor thing that happened would ruin my life. If my mom yelled at me in front of my amazingly cool 15-year old friends for something stupid I had done – life ruined forever. If my dad embarrassed me in front of a boy I liked by telling him something clumsy I had done – life most likely ruined forever. Or if my little brother would follow and yell personal stuff about me when I tried to impress the cool gang in school – LIFE DONE AND OVER WITH!
I mean, being 15 years old was pretty rough.
However, the older I get, the more I realize that 15-year old Anna didn’t have that much of a rough life after all. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had a family. I had a roof over my head and I could attend school. I had an amazing life as a 15-year old and a lot of girls around the globe aren’t that lucky.
Look at 15 year old Marcela from El Salvador. She was brutally shot twice in the head in the middle of the day most likely because she didn’t want to become the girlfriend of a gang member. Marcela’s sister witnessed the killing. She’s now in police protection. Another 15-year old girl in El Salvador, Jessica, started being asked by another girl in school to give her stuff: her jeans, help to cheat on tests, her blouse. This other girl had an older brother that was a part of a gang. One day the girl asked Jessica to give her a pen but Jessica only had one, so she said no.
Ever since that day, Jessica is gone. Jessica’s friend who’s still alive, Aby, now hides inside all day. Aby tells us that the only way to stay away from the gangs is to shut yourself in the house all day. El Salvador is a country where girls have three choices: Hide from the gang, give in to them or die.
In Afghanistan, ranked the worst country in the world to be born a girl, some parents are bringing up their daughters as sons, which is an extreme privilege in a country where being a girl is nothing but misery. In Afghanistan, the average life expectancy of a woman is 44 years, the mother of a newborn girl is often greeted with disappointment for not having brought a son into the world and more than 50% of the girls are married or engaged by the age of 15.
Mehran, is being raised as a boy, or as a ‘bacha posh’, because it’s socially unacceptable that her mother had only daughters. Mehran is the daughter of Azita. In Afghanistan, it’s not uncommon for women to burn themselves to death rather than suffer any more physical abuse at the hands of their husbands. In the early days of her marriage, Azita attempted suicide by overdosing on medication, and there are still days she thinks about it.
15 year old Zahra is also a ‘bacha posh.’ Zahra was made a boy when she was 2 years old. At 15 and living with her parents in Kabul, she still does not want to give up the privilege of being a boy. “People use bad words for girls; they scream at them on the streets,” she said. “When I see that, I don’t want to be a girl. For always, I want to be a boy and a boy and a boy.”
15-year old Nasoin Akhter from Bangaldesh got married to a man who at the time of the marriage was 32-years old. Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Around 29 percent of girls are married before the age of 15, and 65% of girls are already married by the time they turn 18. Families are often in a hurry to marry their daughters off because girls are thought of as an economic burden. Education is considered unnecessary for girls, because boys get the jobs and bring the money in. Mousammat Akhi Akhter was only 13 when her parents married her off to a 27-year-old man. She had just finished 6th grade and wanted to wait until she was older to get married, but she says her parents felt social pressure to marry her young.
At the age of 15, Faridah, from Pakistan, was forced to drop out of school and marry a much older man. When she asked if she could go back to school, he became abusive. Faridah said that; “He beat me, argued with me and refused to let me go. He said: ‘What’s the point in educating girls? There’s no point because it’s the boys who get the jobs’.” 65 million girls worldwide do not go to school. For thousands of girls, child marriage is a significant barrier to education. Child marriage also increases the likelihood of physical and mental abuse by family members, and it pushes girls into earlysexual relationships where pregnancy can put their health at risk.
Being a 15-years old girl in India is not an easy task. Two thousand girls are killed in India every day, with many slain before or just after birth, the country’s Minister of Women and Child Development said at a conference in 2015. She continued by saying that “…2,000 girls are killed in the womb every day,” and “some are born and have pillows on their faces choking them.”
Female infanticide is a massive problem in India’s highly patriarchal society, as daughters are often viewed as a burden because of the continuing prevalence of the dowry system. And for those who make it beyond birth and reach the age of 15? Well. A 15-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped by six persons at a shop in suburban Chembur, this year. In 2012, a former DMK MLA and two of his associates were arrested for allegedly raping and murdering a 15-year old girl from Kerala who worked as a servant in his house. Another 15-year old girl was gangraped at birthday party in Thane, and three men were eventually arrested.
The stories goes on and on and on. Being a 15-year old girl is not a walk in the park. I might have been thinking that my life was quite the struggle back then, but I had no idea what real struggle was actually like.Global Goal 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, and as far as I know, this has to happen right now. We need to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere, eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres–including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation–eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation and much, much more.
Featured Image Credit: Abbott.com