Comcast-NBCUniversal and MSNBC are the premiere media partner of Global Citizen. Global Citizen is a non-partisan organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty worldwide. The following is an opinion piece by Maryam Ahmed.
It is pretty remarkable that I am able to write this article, because where I’m from – Northern Nigeria – only 4 percent of girls get to finish their secondary school education.
More than half of children under the age of 5 are stunted — where a child is prevented from growing and developing properly due to chronic malnutrition — and 76 percent of girls my age are child brides.
I could easily have been a stunted child. I could have easily been a child bride.
Access to education and nutrition, along with women and girl’s rights, are all interconnected. When a girl is forced to leave school early to get married at a young age she must take on enormous responsibilities that even adult women would find very challenging. At this young age, she is likely to give birth even though she is not ready and will very likely be uninformed about how best to feed and care for her child.
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But I was not stunted, and I am not a child bride.
I am Maryam Ahmed, an 18-year-old and a girl’s rights activist who believes that young people are influential, dynamic, and relevant in changing the world for the better.
I write songs, and poems, and speak at events to raise awareness about the barriers that young girls face every day. I organize safe space discussions with girls like me to talk about child marriage, adolescent girl’s education, and what actions we want the government to take to reduce these barriers.
In one of my safe spaces, I met a girl who was extremely brilliant but was pulled out of school and married off to pay off her father’s debt.
I also met a teenage girl who was the mother to a severely malnourished child. She is only able to feed her child carbohydrates — one source of food can lead to stunting — even though she harvests and sells soy beans. Soy beans are not a staple food item for her family, and instead she sells it for needed income.
The first 1000 days are the most important days in a child’s life. During this time, a child begins to develop and requires as much nutritious food as possible. The importance of good nutrition in the first 1000 days must be a top priority for governments, and we must increase outreach amongst young girls who will likely get married and begin a family at an early age.
The Young Leaders for Nutrition Programme — part of the Scaling Up Nutrition: Civil Society Network — works with activists like me so that we can use our collective voice to advocate for children and for a better future. Central to the Programme is the belief that young people have the power to change the world. Youth activists from 12 different countries were identified to work together and fight for a better world. We advocate for the prevention of stunting, equal access to education, and an end to child marriage through the media and speaking with policymakers on the importance of these issues.
Being a girl’s rights activist means using my voice to drive positive change for girls like me. It means raising awareness in the media, influencing parliamentarians to set protective laws, and encourage communities to challenge negative cultural norms. By doing this, we can ensure that every last child is able to live a healthy life and can reach his or her full potential.
My name is Maryam Ahmed, I’m 18 year’s old, and I’m going to change the world.