Youth For Change is about empowering young people to lead the fight against gender-based violence. To mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the beginning of 16 Days of Activism, Youth For Change UK's Arifa shares her own youth activism journey, and why she believes young people have the power to change the world.
"I had to stamp out her bloodline." These were the chilling words of the husband of Uzma Arshad, a Pakistani woman who moved to the UK in a forced marriage which ended in murder. Uzma and her three children were beaten to death by her husband in the name of 'honour'. Her youngest daughter was only 6 years old.
I read that awful quote when I was 14, in a book calledDaughters of Shame by Jasvinder Sanghera, a survivor of Forced Marriage. As you can imagine, it kept me up at night. I wondered how parents, who are supposed to care for us the most, could possibly allow 'honour' to corrupt their unconditional love.
Coming from an Iranian and Pakistani background, I had encountered this idea of 'honour' before. "Ooh Arifa, don’t wear that, what will people think?" or "She ran away to marry a white man Arifa, the shame, her mother clearly didn’t raise her right." But I knew I would never fall prey to this warped concept.
With more research I realised that there were approximately 1,200 victims of forced marriage coming forward each year in the UK according to the government’s Forced Marriage Unit. That is the equivalent of a whole school full of children. The stories I read in that book were the catalyst which triggered a huge change within me.
I had always loved organising things, and decided I wanted to put on a charity fundraising dinner at my secondary school to highlight these issues. In my final year, I went to my Headteacher and presented my proposals to her and other senior school leaders.
Something must have clicked for them, as the very next day they green lit my project. The amount of trust and respect the school bestowed upon me was unprecedented. To this day, I have never felt more empowered than when I was running this project at school.
And the project certainly swallowed up my entire final year. About 60 girls across the year groups rallied around to make it a success. A friend of mine wrote and performed a play on forced marriage, another a contemporary dance. The evening was a roaring success, with speeches from esteemed guests such as Jasvinder Sanghera and Baroness Scotland, and raised a staggering £5,000.
With local councillors, parents and teachers in attendance, we raised the profile of Forced Marriage and Honour Crimes. It was at this event I met my future collaborator Hibo Wardere, a survivor of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Hibo and I started working together informally, going into schools and talking about these issues. Today we are both proud co-founders of Educate2Eradicate, a non-profit that delivers safeguarding training for teachers and workshops for students on FGM, Forced Marriage and Honour Based Violence.
Since then, I’ve begun to advise Plan UK and have also joined Youth For Change, a global youth-led coalition of youth activists working in partnership with organisations and governments to create positive change for young people.
Our campaign is currently FGM and Child and Early Forced Marriage (CEFM) specific, with panels in Tanzania, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. With 50% of the world’s population under the age of 30, young people are crucial to activism and any sort of development.
We all have a linchpin. Something that makes us so passionate it pushes us to act. You simply need to find it. We young people are NOT beneficiaries; we are leaders with agency. We have the potential to change the world we live in. Malala is not an exception, instead she is an example of what we can achieve when our talents and passions align.
So what are you waiting for? Find your linchpin and get going.
This blog was originally published for The Elders on November 25th, 2015, and is reproduced with permission.
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