Young, fearless, and girls
Equipped with a telephone and an internet connection, Esta and Rahila, showed the world ‘A pandemic through girls' eyes’.
"It has been a long journey to get here," says Esta Sanoussi, a 15-year-old Nigerien girl who has become the inspiration for a whole generation of young girls across the country.
For more than five weeks, she opened the doors of her life to the whole world to show what it is like to be a girl in Niger during a global pandemic. With a smartphone, an internet connection, and a quick remote training on how to record herself, she started the virtual adventure.
'The big challenge that the Coronavirus disease has brought is the closure of schools, something our country was not ready for' she tells in the first episode of the video series. Her gaze denotes the shyness of a young girl used to expecting others to speak first. But her testimony contrast with a strong and resilient girl without fear of expressing her thoughts. Esta lives in a humble rural community in the Maradi region, (the region with the highest rates of child marriage in Niger), with her three brothers, two sisters, and her parents. ‘I had a normal life until everything was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic’ says Esta.
'What occupies my mind the most is my studies, although we don't study now because of coronavirus. We are trying our best to study but Covid-19 has halted everything’ she affirmed during the filming. According to UNICEF School closures have negative consequences for children’s learning and wellbeing, with children, especially girls from the most marginalized communities, paying the heaviest price.
For five weeks between May and June 2020, UNICEF collaborated with adolescent girls from nine countries, asking them to share their lives through the lens of their mobile phones. We asked them to capture their ‘new normal’ and share their thoughts, ideas and beliefs on COVID-19 and other issues in their lives.
Girls take the floor on national television
It’s October 11, International Day of the Girl Child. It is half-past eight in the evening, prime time on Niger’s national television, Tele Sahel. The news presenter introduces the video series and a very special guest for the night. Rahila, 15, protagonist of the national video series. Also, young and fearless.
She was born and raised in the capital, Niamey, the most affected region by COVID-19. 'Without the support of my family, and especially my sister, it would have been impossible. Week after week I felt more comfortable sharing my feeling.' she said in the backstage room.
'Rahila, tell us what are the major challenges for young girls like you in Niger? Asked the presenter.
‘I believe that girls in Niger face several problems. The ones that concern me the most are school dropout, lack of access to school for girls, and especially child marriage. In my opinion, girls who go to school do not have the same opportunities as boys in Niger. And this is unfair’ replies Rahila.
‘The fact that children and young people speak up on television is a good sign for our country. The audience is interested in knowing what children have to say, what their concerns are and what are the issues that affects them’ says the presenter before starting the live connection.
Esta has not come to this trip alone. Her mother, Hadiza, travelled more than six hundred kilometers from Maradi to Niamey to be close to her daughter. ‘One of the most difficult parts during the filming was managing the curiosity and interest of the residents in our village. Everyone wanted to know what Esta was doing. We gave her the necessary space and our full support so that she can follow her videos in private’.
‘UNICEF is proud of you girls’
After their participation in the celebrations in Dosso, where the national series were officially launched, the two protagonists visited the UNICEF house in Niamey.
Ilaria Carnevali, Acting Representative of UNICEF in Niger, received both protagonists and their family members to talk about education, gender issues, and the challenges for the generation.
‘Niger needs you courageous, independent, happy... You have proven to be it’.
‘During the filming, we got to see through your own eyes what it means to not be able to go to school, not to play with your friends, and what means to face an uncertain future. I was deeply inspired by your courage to share your feelings and emotions in the way you did’ said Ilaria Carnevali.
‘Together with girls like you, UNICEF is working to address and find solutions to the inequalities girls face on a daily basis. Our actions aim to listen to your demands for equal opportunities. I believe Niger needs role models like you to project a positive portrayal of girls and women in society, free from harmful stereotypes including gender, race, and disability.’
Millions of people reached
Launched on 24 July, “Coping with COVID-19” is a five-part series – with a new episode launching each Friday – in which we will meet a group of adolescent girls from South Asia and West, and Southern Africa who show that adolescent girls have a voice, they just need a platform to speak.
This platform gives them a chance to be heard – they are empowered, they act, and they stand up for themselves and their loved ones. They outline what they want most of all: a future – where they can choose education, work, dreams, and love.
In the context of Generation Equality, UNICEF aims to lift the voices of adolescent girls – although they might face many challenges during COVID-19, they are fearless, and they speak up. We need to make sure these girls are supported to become anything they want during COVID-19 and always.
This initiative has been possible thanks to the financial support the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage and the Government of Canada.