For the past four years, I have been closely involved with Girl Up as an Advisory Council member. Tuesday, in celebration of the International Day of the Girl, I decided to share my storytelling with two Sacramento Girl Up leaders.
Girl Up is a United Nations Foundation Campaign led by girl advocates, raising funds and awareness to support girls in the hardest-to reach-places.
“Girl Up is awesome! Girl Up raises awareness of issues going on around the world, there’s fundraisers, discussions, things that really bring to life the campaigns that other women are holding in their countries,” says Grace, who along with Elyse is launching the club for the first time at her school. Together, Grace and Elyse are co-presidents of a Girl Up Club here in Sacramento and together we worked on a list of #GirlHero -es.
The list comes from this year’s San Francisco Freedom Forum, a spin-off event from the Human Rights Foundation’s annual Oslo Freedom Forum.
Elyse introduces us to Roya Mahboob as “is one of the first female CEOs of a tech company in Afghanistan. She formed a non-profit organization to teach girls in Afghanistan how to code, so they could get jobs and gain power in society, which they didn’t previously have.”
At the San Francisco Freedom Forum, Roya explained to us that “the most important thing that I saw in (the girls) is the confidence that they got. As well as the power to think that they can change. They don’t think anymore that they are shy girls or they are girly. They think that they have the same talents as the boys,” Mahboob said.
During her talk at the forum, she spoke about a 16 year-old girl who is managing 20 people.
Zineb El Rhazoui, born to a Moroccan father and a French mother said that as a young girl, she understood very quickly that “I didn’t have the same rights as men. You know, even if Morocco is said to be a moderate Muslim country.”
While working as a journalist in Paris, after fleeing Morocco, she wrote a comic book depicting the life of the Prophet Muhammad. “La vie de Mahomet,” was as she described, what led a group of terrorists on January 7th, 2015 to the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo.
“I was not there that day, when they came. They killed half of the team. They wanted to kill Charb, actually,” she said. Charb was her boss and co-author of the book. “It was so easy to kill all the others, so they killed them. When they came, they asked for Charb, "where is Charb?" He (stood up), and they said "Allahu Akbar" twice, and they shot at him, and shooted all the others”
El Rhazoui and the other survivors decided to maintain the editorial line of the paper because, as she described “we didn’t want our colleagues to have been killed for nothing. We made that survivors' issue, with the Prophet again on the cover of the newspaper,” El Rhazoui said.
“I started receiving a lot of death threats. The first death threat was a video broadcasted by a group calling itself the Anonymous Islamic Youth, saying that I would be killed soon, but they didn't say when.”
During the HRF events, she was accompanied at all times with two bodyguards, whom she thanked during her talk. French newspapers have named her as the most protected woman in France. She described Twitter hashtags viralized by ISIS profiles asking for followers to "kill Zineb el Rhazoui to avenge the prophet."
Anastasia Lin was born and grew up in China, and as she said in her talk “was made to hate and contempt towards my country’s true heroes, the people who are willing to risk their lives to live as a dignified human being.”
Two years ago, she won Miss World Canada. The pageant was held in China, but because she has used her voice and influence to denounce the Chinese government’s alleged black market of human organs from prisoners of conscience, the Chinese government declared her ‘persona non-grata,” so she couldn’t participate.
She said that since she has held the title for two years, that has given her an opportunity to raise awareness even more effectively about the issue, although she sometimes struggles with the judgments that come from being a beauty queen.
“The people are probably looking at me like ‘this is a pretty girl. She's here because she has that title. As soon as I start to speak, I see people's face change. And it's that change that really makes me feel not just powerful, but authentic and real, and happy, really happy,” Lin said.
After crossing the border to China, Hyeonseo Lee said women are “assaulted sexually and prized to men in China, where Gender Imbalance has driven up the demand for women.”
Despite the imminent dangers, after she left North Korea and China and went to South Korea, she returned to North Korea to rescue her family.
Finally, we spoke with Abdalaziz Alhamza, an activist and journalist from Raqqa, Syria. After Isis took over Raqqa, he fled Syria and now tries to fight Isis through things like social media and subversion. He works with hackers inside of Isis who do things like, shut down their websites, smuggle photos. He described to us how his organization, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Slowly (RBSS), is fighting the terrorist group.
“We have many sources inside ISIS. We were able to hack them, to get many useful information. It's like security information, and we spread it online to everyone, to show the reality. We were able to counter their accounts, and at the same time, we have many attacks. Our website is going down all the time, like the US Congress website, even more than it.
He also spoke about what life was like for women in his town before ISIS took over. “They were like the farmers, the workers, they had their own money. They were like more important than the men. They had to decide, like to study, to do whatever they want,” he said.
After the terrorist group took over, he said “there is no life for a woman in ISIS territories. They are not allowed to walk in the street alone. They should cover all of themselves. Even if they wear red shoes, it's like a crime. They don't have education, they don't have anything. They don't have any fun. They need to stay home all the time. They are not able to leave the city. ISIS are using them only for sex. They are suffering. They are living in the worst condition in the world.”
Elyse and Grace agreed that “although he is not a girl, we still do consider them a hero because his organization and what he’s fighting for does make life better for women and girls in places like Syria that are dominated by ISIS.”
Our Girl Up friend said that on the International Day of the Girl and every other day “awareness is the key issue that we need to develop here. I think it’s important for us to not only be United States citizens but Global citizens.”
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