A few years ago I met the bravest 16-year-old girl I think I will ever know.
Her name was Tegla, and she lived in West Pokot – a remote and extremely poor area of northern Kenya where drought is common and life is hard. She had run away from her parents because they wanted her to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) and well, she didn’t.
She wanted to finish school, and then train to be a nurse. She didn’t want to get married early, risk her life in childbirth, endure a lifetime of pain and stay trapped in the poverty she’d been born into.
If, like me, you think that sounds like a very reasonable thing for a girl to want, it’s shocking to learn how hard she had to fight for it and how much she had to give up. For a few weeks she stayed in a dormitory at her school, built especially to protect girls trying to escape FGM with support from ActionAid. Then an aunt agreed to take her in, but she still lived in fear of her parents finding her and taking her home to be cut.
Her future was uncertain – without the financial or emotional stability of a close family – but she was fiercely determined to achieve her dreams.
There are many girls like Tegla out there, resisting FGM and early marriage, influencing their friends to do the same, with the vision and drive to become educated and independent young women. But there are even more who are at risk of one or both practices and don’t have the support or protection to imagine a different life.
Here’s how you can help.
On July 22, the UK will host the first Girl Summit, bringing global decision makers and civil society together with the aim of ending FGM and child, early and forced marriage within a generation.
A high level of public support for the summit will put even greater pressure on those attending to commit to bold and unified action. You can help make that happen by posting a pledge on Facebook or Twitter. Use the Girl Summit global message or write your own, either way your voice will make a difference.
Here’s just a few of the pledges made on Twitter already:
— Hanna Ghariani (@HannaGhariani) July 3, 2014
— Dom Hall (@Dom_ip_Hall) July 2, 2014